Debranding Light for Windows Phone 7

So now you are the owner of a shiny WP7 device and even got a marketplace signup so you can code applications for this thing. And after a while you realize that Microsoft released a firmware update that contains some functionality you would like to incorporate into your apps, like copy & paste for example.

But your phone just never tells you about the update, and there is nothing to be installed, and some friends of yours already got the update while you are still unable to thoroughly test your app. Then you realize the difference: You bought the phone from a different carrier.

Some carriers hold back new updates for WP7 for quite some time, which – from a developer’s point of view – might be unacceptable.

And then someone tells you that flashing your phone with an original (unbranded) ROM might do the trick, but this means that you are losing all your messages and settings and so on – almost everything in fact, since the device will be completely reset, just like after doing a fresh reinstall of you favorite OS on your PC. But at least for a PC there are a lot of backup solutions available that will bring all your data back.

At the time of writing, this is not true for WP7 devices – the only backup solution worth mentioning I know of will do a complete backup of the phone – including the device’s current ROM which means that this is only applicable if you do NOT want do upgrade the ROM. But this is precisely what debranding is about.

If your only goal is to unlock the updates for your phone so that it uses MS updates directly instead of waiting for your carrier to release them, then there is another solution. Essentially, it will only flick a switch telling your phone not to receive the updates from your carrier but directly from MS. It will not alter your branded boot screen nor any other settings on your phone. Most importantly, it will not do anything to your precious data.

This is a short outline of what I did for my Samsung Omnia 7:

  1. (Optional) Create a complete backup of your phone so you could roll back in case of failure. This might be a good idea anyway.
    1. Install the support tool for WP7
    2. Install this wrapper for the support tool (this is the backup solution I mentioned previously)
    3. Perform a backup of the phone. For me, it was ok to remove the USB cable when the app told me to even though the phone was displaying an image at that time strongly advising me not to do so
  2. Follow the instructions on this site. For me this meant:
    1. Installing the registry editor for Samsung devices. This editor comes as an XAP file which must be deployed to the phone via the Windows Phone SDK Application Deployment tool
    2. After that I had to edit one registry value and
    3. Reboot the phone
  3. This should be it. My phone announced available updates and I installed them after Zune was finished updating itself to a new version.

Some forum members claimed that this took more than one attempt for them. While it worked for me at once, some had to try 20 times.