Unlocking the iPhone Looks Like a Good Idea for Business Users

News Analysis: The iPhone 3G has been jailbroken, but there are numerous ways to unlock it. Some techniques are more difficult than others, but are they worth considering in the business world?

George Hotz, a hacker who made a name for himself by unlocking the first-gen iPhone after it was released, is at it again. He has created an application, called purplea1n, that will allow Windows users to jailbreak the iPhone 3G.

The tool lets them access applications that are not available in the App Store. It isn't available to Mac users yet, but Hotz says it's on its way. His tool is the first known jailbreaking application for the iPhone 3G.

But jailbreaking is much different than unlocking the iPhone 3G. The former allows users to install unauthorized applications onto the device. The latter gives users the opportunity to install a SIM card from any other carrier, thus providing them with the option of bringing their iPhone to the carrier of their choice. A quick Google search will yield all the resources needed to do that.

Realizing that, it begs the question of whether or not the enterprise should get involved in unlocking iPhones. Generally, unlocking has been most prevalent in the consumer space where AT&T users have wanted to break out of their contracts and put the iPhone on a carrier they like. The business world stayed away from unlocking iPhone devices simply because the iPhone wasn't enterprise-friendly. The iPhone largely ignored the enterprise until the release of iPhone software version 3.0 and the iPhone 3G S.

Today, the iPhone 3G includes a variety of enterprise-friendly features, including push e-mail, calendar and contacts; Exchange support; voice control; and tethering. And thanks to the App Store, enterprise users can find a variety of great apps to help them in their professional exploits.

But now that the iPhone is more enterprise-friendly, should enterprise users try unlocking the device to bring it to another carrier if they would prefer not to use AT&T? It makes some sense. The iPhone 3G's biggest problem for enterprise users is that it's locked down to AT&T. So, if they want to choose the carrier with the best deal or the widest coverage, going with the iPhone isn't their best bet. But by unlocking the device, all that would change.

In order for the iPhone to provide more value in the enterprise, it can't be locked down to a single carrier. AT&T might be great in one part of the country, but it's not universal. A quick glance at the company's coverage map will tell you everything you want to know about AT&T coverage: depending on where a company is located, it might not provide the kind of coverage required by a company. When that happens, they need to move to a carrier that can provide the best coverage. If that comes in the form of T-Mobile, the company is out of luck-it will need to find other devices to satisfy its needs, while the iPhone stays locked down to AT&T customers.

Although it can be risky, unlocking the iPhone gives the enterprise options. Instead of forcing them to use one carrier for the sake of a phone, it gives them all the options they really need to make better business decisions. It could, conceivably, help the business cut costs, maintain carrier relations, and most importantly, give employees what they really want-the iPhone 3G.

Of course, there are risks. IT workers would need to spend time buying iPhones, unlocking those devices and then switching them over to T-Mobile. It will take time and there's always a chance that the unlocking won't go as planned.

It might seem silly to some who say unlocking an iPhone for the sake of having one on different carriers is ludicrous. They'll say it's easier to simply get a BlackBerry and stick with it. There's no debating that unlocking the iPhone 3G is far more labor-intensive than simply acquiring another device. But the iPhone is a special device that's worth treating with special attention. It offers enterprise functionality, it's what the employees want, and for the most part, it's a great device.

For the enterprise, unlocking the iPhone isn't such a bad idea.

Don Reisinger

Don Reisinger

Don Reisinger is a longtime freelance contributor to several technology and business publications. Over his career, Don has written about everything from geek-friendly gadgetry to issues of privacy...