[conspire] CABAL meeting tomorrow (also, webmail security discussed here)

Rick Moen rick at linuxmafia.com
Thu Nov 26 13:48:21 PST 2009

Quoting Edward Cherlin (echerlin at gmail.com):

> I won't consider buying a new phone, short of the old one going
> through the wash, until Mary Lou Jepsen's Pixel Qi sunlight readable
> screens have taken over the market. I wouldn't complain at GPS, but I
> mostly want my phone to work as a phone.

Yeah, you know, I was recently able to switch to using my mother's
disused Samsung SGH-A707, which is a tolerable low-end smartphone, and
it's good enough for just generic cellular use.

My mother's experience with that might be of interest, because I think
it's typical:  Someone talked her into walking into an AT&T store, where
she was talked into a 2-year contract (not acceptable, in my view) and
handed her the Samsung.  Over time, it turned out that she used it so seldom
that it didn't justify the (something like) $40/month payout to AT&T, so
I sat down with her and calculated how much money she was bleeding per
month, versus the penalty payment AT&T would require to terminate her
contract.  So, she had the Samsung sitting in a drawer -- usable for 911
calls but nothing else, for lack of customer entitlement to AT&T's

I took it home, and of course immediately confirmed that it's
vendor-locked.  In theory, the carrier subsidises such hardware's cost
of manufacture, such that you get it much more cheaply than if you
bought it as a generic 'phone.  Personally, when I bought my old
Motorola RAZRv3, for example, I made a point of buying it directly from
Motorola (Internet / mail order) rather than from my carrier (T-Mobile)
so that I would be getting an unlocked device, and in order to convey
the message in the marketplace that such vendor manipulation is
unacceptable.  (If people would cease being willing to pay for locked
'phones, they would disappear.)

If you search on the Internet, you find quite a number of firms willing
to sell you for US $25 or so the "subsidy unlock code" for various
vendor-locked smartphones.  You also find vast numbers of people
piteously inquiring about _how_ to unlock various models, and trading
tips that are incomplete or don't work.

As usual when such services are for sale, they're offering for money
what you can (usually) get for free if you understand what's going on.
The telephone's bootloader includes "SIM lock" code that makes the
telephone refuse to boot unless the SIM = Subscriber Identity Module
chip you insert (that provides the 'phone's telephone number and basic
network identity, the 15-digit International Mobile Subscriber Identity
= IMSI) is from the sponsoring telco carrier.  E.g., the Samsung's
bootloader would refuse to boot with a non-AT&T SIM chip present.

There's actually a second level of telco hypercontrol that's often
present on smartphones called CID = Carrier ID locking at the ROM level,
where the bootloader will refuse to boot if you have reflashed the
firmware, replacing the carrier-approved junk with something better,
because, e.g., maybe you don't like or want to improve on or replace the
cruddy applets they provided.  But, for my purposes, I needed only to
SIM-unlock the Samsung, not CID-unlock it.  (I don't know if the Samsung
is CID-locked, though it does have AT&T branding all over the software
load in its firmware.)

Anyway, the telco-issued firmware always includes a routine that can be
invoked to SIM-unlock the phone if fed the correct string of data, and 
the telcos generally (referring to at least T-Mobile and AT&T) have
policies that they will give you this string upon request, if the phone
had paid-up contractual service for at least 90 days.  You call their
customer service for this purpose, and cite the IMEI = International
Mobile Equipment Identity string, which is basically the phone chassis's
globally unique string, encoding the manufacturer identity, model, and
serial number.   The customer service rep enters that IMEI into an
application in front of him/her, and cites back to you the SIM-unlock
code.  Usually, the rep is able to tell you where in the 'phone's menus
to enter the code, but sometimes you need to Web-search that detail.

You'll see on the Internet widespread claims that US law _requires_
telcos to provide this service.  That turns out to be completely
incorrect, and, e.g., AT&T have stated that they'll be unwilling to
unlock iPhones under any circumstances, even when the contracts have

Useful pages:

Suffice it to say, I called AT&T Customer Service, cited the Samsung's
IMEI, and got the SIM-unlock code.  It's now a T-Mobile 'phone, albeit
one with a lot of unusable AT&T-specific features.

Now that I'm not totally reliant on my Neo Freerunner, I might
experiment with some of the non-OpenMoko firmware for it, such as
the Android ports, to see if those are satisfactory.

You mention GPS.  GIS service for smartphones is one of the trouble
points -- as I shall explain -- and seems likely to remain so until
OpenStreetMap's data get extensive and reliable enough that apps such as
AndNav2 and Navit for Android, Opentouchmap.org for iPhone, and GpsMid
for Java ME (mobile apps for the OpenStreetMap dataset) become good
enough for mobile GPS navigation that we can say "screw you" to GIS data

I'm not sure who those companies are who own the commercial GIS datasets
-- I suspect  Autodesk, Bentley Systems, ESRI, Intergraph, Manifold
System, Mapinfo and Smallworld -- but it is said that _no_ smartphone
is permitted access to that data unless the 'phone vendor agrees to DRM 
the device and control the customer.  They fear losing control of that
data, you see.  So, the only longterm fix to _that_ is to replace them, 
which seems to primarily mean using OpenStreetMap data.

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