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It's been close to a year since I wrote about the "gray area" of using Apple's iPhone in Montana, but things may be changing soon. The iPhone might officially arrive in Montana this year. And on not one, but two cell phone networks: Verizon and AT&T.

The iPhone has been a very popular device - it's a combination of a cell phone, media player and mobile computer, with wireless Internet access and the ability to run programs. Tens of millions have sold since it was first introduced in 2007.

But the iPhone has always been the technological and legal territory of AT&T - from the start, the company was designated by Apple as the sole carrier for the iPhone - and AT&T has never had wireless service in Montana.

It's always been possible to buy an iPhone and AT&T contract in another state and use it in Montana, but your phone number wouldn't have the 406 area code and your connection would roam on another cell phone network, with the associated expense and sketchy service.

It's been possible to use an iPhone in Montana without AT&T service by "unlocking" it, or electronically releasing it from working only on the company's network. It's a fairly easy process, and the phone gets good coverage on other networks.

Even though unlocked iPhones are a legal gray area - Apple considers it a violation of its software copyright - some say there are millions in use.

The method involves getting an iPhone on the secondary market (such as through eBay), using easy-to-find instructions to unlock it, buying a cheap phone and calling plan from a local company, and swapping the SIM card from the local phone into the iPhone.

That electronically fools the iPhone into thinking it's on an AT&T-type network, and the local cell network into thinking you're using the cheap phone and not an iPhone.

But that all looks to be changing this year and next. The companies aren't saying much officially, but rumor has it that Apple will begin making a model of the iPhone that will works on Verizon's networks. And AT&T is buying the assets of another cell phone company in Montana. (More next week.)

This week in Mac Q&A: Screen Sharing with Another Mac at www.

Mark Ratledge is an information technology consultant. His website is www.markratledge.com.

 

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