24 September 2007

AT&T and Apple sitting in a tree...

Back in the frontier days of touring before cellphones and email, we had these things we called "dialers". If you were in a band, on tour back in 96, 97, 98, at least one dude in the band had one of these things. It was essential on those early tours.

Radio Shack had some fairly inane invention where you could store your phone numbers in this little electronic "black book" which was about the size of a calculator.

You'd store your numbers so when you wanted to call someone, you just searched their name, put the dialer up to the receiver and it would play the tone of the number; allowing you to place the call without ever having to dial or remember the number you were calling.

Thinking back, we were really banging our heads into walls back then before the cellphone became as omnipresent as it is today.

So some friends of ours, those who would eventually become engineers, electricians or computer wizards, knew how to hack these Radio Shack memory dialers so that they could emulate the tones used by the phone company to signal the payment of a quarter. It had something to do with replacing the memory crystal with a 6.5 mHz crystal. I have no idea how it was done. I'd just buy the dialers, give my friend $20 and he'd give it back to me all set up.

So every time you put a quarter in the phone it would make a very specific staccato tone; if you had something that played this precise staccato tone into your receiver, the phone would think you were entering a quarter every time.

So you'd dial the number, and it would tell you "Please deposit such-and-such for 5 minutes" and you'd just press the tone button as many times as you need quarters; one tone was one quarter. It was genius and a real lifesaver on those early tours before Map Quest and all that shit.

But guess who came up with this dialer thing? Guess who realised if you emulated those tones, you could make free calls?

Motherfuckin' Steve Jobs invented that shit back in 1971, after reading an article in Esquire Magazine.

Back in 1971, Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak (the founders of Apple) went into business to build "blue boxes" (I guess thats what they were called out West, out here we just knew them as "dialers"). The device allowed you to make free illegitimate phone calls by faking the signals used by AT&T.

And now AT&T just so happens to be Apple’s exclusive network carrier for the iPhones. Remember? Hmmmm.

From Wikipedia:
An early phreaking tool, the blue box is an electronic device that simulates a telephone operator’s dialing console. It functions by replicating the tones used to switch long-distance calls and using them to route the user’s own call, bypassing he normal switching mechanism. The most typical use of a blue box was to place free telephone calls - inversely, the Black Box enabled one to receive calls which were free to the caller. The blue box no longer works in most western nations, as modern switching systems are now digital and no longer use the in-band signaling which the blue box emulates. Instead, signaling occurs on an out-of-band channel which cannot be accessed from the line the caller is using (called Common Channel Interoffice Signaling (CCIS)).

The Apple Founders not only built the devices, but Steve Jobs also sold them to other students at Berkeley. Allegedly they demonstrate the product by making prank calls.

So if Steve Jobs is a true visionary, he is the man who sees the future, why would he go behind his fellow hackers to stop them from unlocking iPhone? Evidently, iPhone unlocking is in Apple’s interest.

Apple’s core business is hardware and it relies on the sales of its products. The iPhone is gateway for Apple like iPod, which will help them to increase in brand popularity and more hardware sales.

Apple needed a carrier to launch iPhone and they signed up with AT&T with an undisclosed revenue sharing deal. The revenue generated from AT&T subscriptions won’t be a significant amount compared to the revenue from hardware sales.

It is AT&T who is more worried about iPhone hackers, not Apple. That’s why AT&T lawyers went knocking on the doors of iPhone hackers while Apple took a “neutral” stance on the unlocking issue. Unlocking a cell phone is legal and not a violation of laws.

Apple can’t stop anyone from unlocking any a cell phone. But, it is obliged to make iPhone as “unhackable” as possible because of the exclusivity deal with AT&T. At a recent Apple event in London, Jobs tactfully acknowledged with his statement “It’s a cat-and-mouse game”. It is evident that Apple is in the ‘mouse’ position in current scenario and they are ready with a new firmwire version which will lock the iPhones again to make AT&T and O2 happy.

We know there is no such thing as “unhackable”. Sooner or later, iPhone hackers will be able to hack and supply an upgrade version of their software to unlock the newer firmware versions. The cat-and-mouse game will continue, customers with unlocked iPhones will be able to upgrade with the newer version of firmware once the updated unlock solution comes out.

This site/page is amazing, give it a spin.

the east coast dialer a/k/a "red box"
circa 1997


Tony said...

JLB, I believe it was Wozniak that did the dialer thing (at least the technical aspects of it).

Anonymous said...

A bluebox is TOTALLY different than a redbox/dialer. A blue box actually sent codes used for switching and allowed you to become an 'operator.' A redbox was a modified radio shack dialer that played the tone that signified 5 cents being inserted. You'd generally put five of those together in redial and it would count as a quarter (although it sounded a lot slower than a real quarter 5 beep)