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Canadians have been waiting for the iPhone to arrive since it was announced at Macworld 2007. Some Canadians refuse to wait for homegrown carriers to adopt the revolutionary device. Hell-bent on owning an iPhone by any means necessary, they've hacked, bartered and unlocked their way into possession and control of the coolest phone...well, ever.
Every single iPhone running on Rogers or Fido, the two Canadian GSM networks able to service the phone, has at some point, been unlocked and likely jailbroken (modified to run third-party applications). There are a number of methods available to fool the phone into thinking a local carrier is actually AT&T, and with the recent release of ZiPhone, the hacking process has become much easier. But early adopters faced a significant challenge just getting their phones up and running. Dave Shea, the designer behind the Mezzoblue iPhone icon set and the founder of mezzoblue.com, was one of the first Canadians to take the plunge.
“I picked up my iPhone in Seattle in early September. On September 11th, a free software unlock method was posted, but it was all sorts of ugly command line hackery. I finally worked up the guts to do it, followed a step by step guide, and after about an hour of scary scrolling black-on-white text on my iPhone’s screen, I had it,” Shea said.
iPhone hacking has since become much easier, to the point where all it takes to unlock, jailbreak, and use the phone is a modicum of patience and ten minutes with ZiPhone, which allows the phone to run on any carrier and opens up a world of third-party applications which extend the functionality of the phone. But in order to hack their phones, Canadians have to get their hands on them first, and they can’t walk into their local Apple Store or any other electronics outlet and buy one, because they aren’t for sale.
Many Canadians live close to the United States border, and opt for either a day trip or a vacation purchase in order to come back to Canada with the coveted device. Others opt to purchase previously unlocked phones from Craigslist or eBay, though usually with an inflated price tag.
Though Apple is the ultimate arbiter of where the iPhone will next be introduced, Canada’s current wireless climate explains much of the phone’s absence. Currently, only Rogers Wireless and its subsidiary, Fido Wireless, run on the GSM network, but every one of Canada’s wireless providers also charge wireless rates that are substantially higher than anywhere else in the world. These rates, which stem from a profound lack of competition in the Canadian market, are being widely touted as a major reason the iPhone has yet to hit the Canadian market, and though there have been slight shifts towards affordability, Canadian data rates are still remarkably expensive.
“I initially activated as a legitimate user on a pay as you go plan with AT&T. The $20 I paid for unlimited data for the month was equal to about $3,500 worth of data on my Canadian plan for the amount of data I managed to use in five days,” Vancouver iPhone hacker John Biehler said.
“For the most part, I just know where the open wifi spots are in my daily routine. If it was available for a reasonable price, I would sign up for unlimited, but at about $0.05 a kilobyte, and with 5 MB as my current wireless package, I could blow through that in a matter of minutes if I wanted it on my iPhone,” Biehler added.
Apple may eventually decide to bring the iPhone to Canada, and wireless providers may yet slash astronomical wireless rates, but until then, the Canadian iPhone experience continues to be a patchwork of hacking, frantically searching for free Wi-Fi and covert trips over the border.