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N.J. hacker untethers iPhone from AT&T network

NEW YORK - Armed with a soldering iron and a large supply of energy drinks, a slight, curly haired teenager has developed a way to make the iPhone, arguably the gadget of the year, available to a much wider audience.

George Hotz of Glen Rock, N.J., spent his last summer before college figuring out how to 'unlock' the iPhone, freeing it from being restricted to a single carrier, AT&T Inc.

The procedure, which the 17-year-old posted on his blog Thursday, raises the possibility of a cottage industry springing up to buy iPhones, unlocking them and then selling them to people who don't want AT&T service or can't get it, particularly overseas.

The phone, which combines an innovative touch-screen interface with the media-playing abilities of the iPod, is sold only in the U.S.

An AP reporter was able to verify that an iPhone Hotz brought to the AP's headquarters Friday was unlocked. Hotz placed the reporter's T-Mobile SIM card, a small chip that identifies a phone to the network, in the iPhone. It then connected to T-Mobile's network and placed calls using the reporter's account.

T-Mobile is the only major U.S. carrier apart from AT&T that is compatible with the iPhone's cellular technology, but smaller carriers also use the technology, known as GSM. In Europe and Asia, GSM is the dominant network technology.

The hack is complicated and requires skill with both soldering and software, and missteps may result in the iPhone becoming useless, so few people will be able to follow the instructions.

'But that's the simplest I could make them,' Hotz said.

AT&T spokesman Mark Siegel and Apple spokeswoman Jennifer Bowcock said their companies had no comment. Hotz said the companies had not been in touch with him.