App rescues Galaxy Note 3 from its region lock, but Samsung’s motives remain unclear

Remember Samsung’s little region-locking fiasco? A couple of weeks ago, it came out that the manufacturer was locking phones such as the Galaxy Note 3 to specific parts of the world – if you tried using a SIM from a different region, stickers on the retail boxes said it wouldn’t work.

Then Samsung turned around and said customers only needed to use a SIM card from their region the first time they activate the device. Unfortunately, some users have since discovered that a full region lock is in place, in line with what Samsung’s actual retail boxes (as opposed to the firm’s public relations spokespeople) have claimed.

Fixed that for you

But fear not! An “XDA Elite Recognized Developer” called Chainfire has come up with an app to region-unlock the European Galaxy Note 3, and here’s a video showing it in action:

The “RegionLock Away” app requires a rooted device, although some have also reported that a standard network unlock will remove the region lock too.

What’s particularly interesting about Chainfire’s app is that it proves what it is that Samsung’s doing, namely instituting a blacklist on its devices – a blacklist that names specific networks and even whole regions where the handset should be blocked from working. RegionLock Away essentially clears the list, according to XDA Developers.

There’s only one other phone-maker I know that ventures into this territory, and that’s Apple(s aapl). Apple maintains a whitelist of carriers whose LTE networks it has tested, and its LTE-capable iPhones won’t do 4G on those networks unless they’re on the list. There’s a lot to criticize about that strategy, but at least it has a clear purpose and doesn’t totally cut off devices from unapproved networks.

Still few answers

Which brings us back to the biggest question in the region-locking debacle: “Why?” We still don’t know what Samsung is trying to achieve with its blacklist.

The most charitable explanation is that the manufacturer is trying to combat gray-market imports, by making it a less attractive option for a European or American to buy a phone cheaply over eBay, rather than buying it through a local retailer or carrier. Only it turns out that phones in Asia — the most likely source for gray-market handsets – aren’t getting region-locked, which makes this explanation less than logical.

Could it be that mobile operators are working with Samsung to dissuade people from swapping out their SIM cards for a cheaper non-roaming option while travelling abroad? That was my first instinct when the story broke, but I still hope it’s not the case, because that would be an ill omen for international telecommunications.

Whatever the ultimate explanation, developers such as Chainfire are helping us figure it all out, piece by piece. And affected users who are not afraid to root their phones now have a tool to help them out.