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How-To: Give Your Old iPhone New Life With Prepaid Data and Minutes

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Got an old iPhone lying around? Some people may sell their old iPhone, or use it as a glorified iPod touch. Others will want to give it to a family member on a prepaid calling plan. Personally, I use mine as an emergency phone/Internet device. Here’s the how and why.

AT&T (s att) offers a contract-free, pay-as-you-go plan called the GoPhone, which works much like a calling card where you pay in advance for phone minutes as well as data. Currently you can buy a $100 calling card and the credit is good for a year. Other small denominations are available with shorter expiration dates.

Although AT&T doesn’t officially support pay-as-you-go plans like GoPhone for the iPhone, you can buy a GoPhone, and simply take the SIM from the GoPhone (which is usually a cheap ‘dumb’ phone) and put it in your old iPhone. This will enable you to use the iPhone as a phone, but even if you add the GoPhone data plan, you can’t use data on the old iPhone because the phone’s internal settings are not set to allow this. I learned this the hard way.

Over-the-Air Provisioning

However, there is a workaround for this problem that can be done easily and without any jailbreaking or other “phone hacking.” You can do this by taking advantage of a legitimate, built-in part of the iPhone OS called “over-the-air provisioning.” Over-the-air provisioning allows you to change certain otherwise inaccessible phone settings (such as the data network).

You can use this process with an original iPhone, iPhone 3G or iPhone 3GS. According to the site, the process works with iPhone OS 2.x, 3.x, and 4.x. I tested it with an iPhone 3G running iPhone OS 3.1.3.

Here’s how I enabled a GoPhone data plan with my iPhone 3G.

The Steps

Step 1: Open Safari on the iPhone that you wish to use with the GoPhone data plan and navigate to and then tap “Continue”

Step 2: Tap the “Custom APN” button

Step 3: Select your carrier. You will see a pop-up menu with settings for carriers all over the world. Since you are using a GoPhone in the U.S., you will need to navigate down to “US – AT&T.” Once you select AT&T, the other fields will automatically get filled in with the proper data.

Step 4: Tap the “Create Profile” button. This will generate your custom APN profile and download it to your phone.

Step 5: A screen will pop up on your phone informing you about the new profile and asking if you want to install it. Go ahead and tap “Install” and then “Replace” in the subsequent dialog

Step 6: You should see a “Profile Installed” screen. This means your new profile has been installed successfully

To test your data plan (note this will use some of your prepaid account), you’ll need to turn off Wi-Fi and confirm you are on the AT&T network (look for the the Edge or 3G text on the upper left corner of the screen). Launch Safari and navigate to a favorite web site. The initial connection time might take a few extra moments, but you should see the website load. If this doesn’t work, you might need to reboot the phone for the new profile to fully take effect.

Returning your phone to previous settings is easy. Simply open the Settings app on the phone, tap “General” and scroll to the bottom. You will see a “Profile” setting which you can tap to view the details of the installed profile, and there is also a red “Remove” button which will allow you to delete the profile and return your phone’s APN settings to the default.

As a side note, this same process works for other carriers around the world. While this tutorial is written for U.S. GoPhone users, if you are in another country with a SIM from another carrier, you should be able to use these same steps to change the APN for your non-AT&T carrier. However, your phone will have to be either already compatible with the carrier of your choice or unlocked.

74 Responses to “How-To: Give Your Old iPhone New Life With Prepaid Data and Minutes”

  1. Why are websites and blogs that talk about this always so vague? I’m trying to figure out how the heck you get a data plan on a GoPhone card or if that’s even possible. I don’t see any option like that on the ATT website, yet this article talks about data.

    • I currently reside in Estonia and local providers DO offer data plan with calling. It’s default so you buy a card for 100 bux and you can either call or use it as 3G. I was using my iPhone 3G this way. Now I’m trying to find a way to use that with my new 3GS model.

  2. sumyunguy

    I would recommend over the GoPhone sim. It is a prepaid service that uses the Tmobile towers.
    $40 for unlimited talk/text
    $50 for unlimited talk/text + 100MB of data
    $60 for unlimited talk/text + Unlimited data

    Only drawback on the Data would be that you were stuck with only EDGE speeds because of the different radio bands between tmobile and the iphone radio.

    Wife and I use it with our NexusOnes here in LA and LOVE it! Saving a TON of money every month! No running out of data and no extra taxes or fees. You pay $40, $50 or $60. THAT’S IT!

  3. Adam McNutt

    I use it with my iPhone 3GS. Took the GoPhone SIM from my Sony-Ericsson I won a while back. Works fine for me. Haven’t looked for other charges yet though. Been using it as a phone with wifi, no cell data and been fine, so now it’s nice to have data, but damn if it isn’t pricey. I never really used data on my Sony.

  4. Here’s my question. My wife’s sister gave her an old iphone, the original model. It’s not activated and my wife’s current sim from another ATT phone doesn’t permit activation. Is there anyway to make her existing sim work so she can keep her current number?

    I tried the steps outlined here but when the phone tries to activate–and I enter her phone number–iTunes says “Activation is not available at this time.


  5. What if I just want the voice/text capabilities on an iphone. How can I use an iphone as a go-phone. I don’t want my daughter to be able to connect to the internet with it anyway. How do I do this? Also, if I’m buying a used iphone which one do I want?

  6. I have the same question about GoPhone Data as others do. There doesn’t seem to be any cheap data available on the GoPhone plan.

    Can someone please answer how you get data that isn’t $0.01/kb ($10/Mb), which is a ridiculous price to pay for data. I’d have a $2,000 bill after one week of use!

  7. So I’d like to make an update.

    I just got a Sim Card from the ATT store for the pay-as-you-go service. They let me get the sim card without buying a phone. ( I told them I had a phone at home I could use).
    I have an old iPhone 3g that I have iOS 3.1.3 on and have no intention of trying iOS4 on it again.

    I did NOT have to go to that site to unlock. I picked up the sim card immediately. I can use data and phone without a hitch.

  8. Although this appears to be a good solution for re-purposing an old iPhone, isn’t there still an issue with the exhorbitant cost of AT&T’s data rate for a Go Phone? I read that it’s $10/MB. For 200MB, that’s $2,000 !!! On a contract plan, that same 200MB is only $15.

    Am I missing something here? Is there a cheaper pre-paid data plan?

  9. imageone

    OK, directions are very vague here.

    I have an original iPhone (with original sim) and not being used. I bought a cheap GoPhone (AT&T). I removed the GoPhone sim and placed it in the iPhone. I went to AT&T website to activate the sim. I entered the sim number and it asked for the IMEI number I entered the one one the iPhone screen, not the one on the GoPhone box. The iPhone said I must connect to iTunes. I can’t get passed activation screen in iTunes.

    several questions:

    how do you get passed the activation screen in iTunes? does the iPhone have to be jail broken?

    AT&T website to activate (you enter the GoPhone sim, but which IMEI # do you enter? GoPhone or the one on the iPhone screen)

    • You need to have the SIM already activated and accepted on the AT&T network before transferring it to the iPhone. So activate the SIM in the GoPhone, make a call on the thing, make sure it is working.

      Then you should be able to put it in the iPhone (assuming the iPhone is not a fresh restore) and be on your way.

      • imageone

        thanks Mike, try that. sim active in GoPhone, but when inserted into iPhone, it says connect to iTunes which says sim not supported. can’t get past the lock screen. ??

  10. Frank McPherson

    Can you get any GoPhone to get the SIM and follow this process, or do you have go get a GoPhone that specifically says it works on the Internet/3G?

  11. sheila porter

    So I just did this with an old go phone sim card that is several years old, but it’s not working. How can I call and put minutes on it? What am I not doing right?

  12. imacdavey

    I bought a GoPhone today, activated the ‘dumb’ phone and put the SIM into my iPhone 3G. It says ‘no service’. Any idea what I’m doing wrong? It is jailbroken but I never had a problem without before I upgraded to an iPhone 4.

    • I’m pretty sure that the SIM is tied to the phone you bought because you got free minutes with it. I’ve been told the phone is then tied to the SIM for 6 months. Sorry.

      • MaryThomas

        I bought the cheapest GoPhone this afternoon and, separately, bought a $25 prepaid card trying to avoid the free minutes that might make the phone tied to the SIM for six months. Didn’t work. They gave me an automatic bonus of $15 of free minutes and so my 3GS says No Service with the GoPhone card in it… Beware!

  13. shelltops

    any idea if this “hack” can work on other cellphone providers’ networks (i.e. t-mobile)?

    that would be swell!

    thanks for the great article

  14. I have been doing this for over a year with my 3G now through Works perfectly.
    The only problems I had at first were random charges to my prepaid account of $1 ~ $5. When I called AT&T, they told me it was because my phone is trying to access the 3G network. They turned off 3G to my phone, credited me $20 (No joke) and haven’t had a problem since.

  15. Austin

    I’m trying to get access on the israeli company orange. I found a website that said I could use “internet/orange/orange” but I didn’t have any luck with those settings. Any ideas on what I could try?

  16. Jeremy

    I’d love to use this method to get my jailbroken iPhone 3G usable for a upcoming 3 week trip to Germany. However the 3G is my only phone and I’m concerned the APN changes will cause issues with using data when I return home. Will the APN changes affect the iPhone’s 3G or Edge connections in the US?

    • Jayster

      @jeremy You can reset the APN back to ATT using the same website tool.
      FYI, when you’re in Germany, get a “Fonic” prepaid SIM card. You’ll pay 9ct/min to all German landlines and mobile networks as well as to all EU landlines and US landlines&mobiles. Data is 24ct per MB of data. Fonic uses O2’s GSM HSDPA network with up to 7.2 Mbit ( I have seen 3.6 Mbit/s on my iPhone !).

      You can set the APN for Fonic using the above noted web tool or via tethering web tool.

      Enjoy Germany !

      You can get the Fonic SIM in all “Lidl” supermarkets for €9.95. Lidl is in almost every town in Germany, so you should easily find one.

      • Jeremy

        @Jayster – Thanks! I will check out Fonic. I had been researching CallYa on VodaPhone, but it seems a bit expensive.
        I will actually be in the Netherlands for a few days as well…do you know if the Fonic SIM will incur extra charges outside Germany? What do you recommend for traveling between countries?

  17. I’m currently jailbroken on an iPhone 2G, but since 3.1.x have been having wifi reception problems, making my device all but useless. This seems like a good, inexpensive way to go legal.

    Question is, when do I do these steps? If I do a Restore, and un-jailbreak, I’ll wind up back at the Activate Account screen. It seems like there, without an AT&T account, I’d be handcuffed, so to speak.

    Does installing a physical SIM get me past that screen? And then from that point I’d be able to use wifi to get to the APN Changer site?

  18. I was thrilled to read this!
    Our 11 year old uses my 1st gen as an iTouch. On occasion Id love for her to use it as a phone when I drop her off at a class. It’s big enough that I probably wouldn’t end up washing it with the laundry.
    We aren’t big on our kids having their own phones, and for sure won’t pay a data plan for them-which is funny, if we follow your instructions, people will assume we are doing just that!
    Thanks again.

  19. Will this enable the tmobile side kick plan to work again? This would be helpfull to ample waiting for a response. Also what pay as you go at%t options are there that allow web?

  20. Christian

    Great article as I’m a Canadian that goes to the US frequently. Only thing that confuses me is the fact that the GoPhone plans don’t seem to offer any data plans to add. The only thing I can see is the $0.01/kb ($10/Mb), which is very very expensive.

    Am I missing something?

  21. I just got a note from AT&T telling me that since I am using my old out of contract iPhone on a separate account — and am not using data at all, just using as a phone — that they’re going to “save me the trouble” and add a data account to my service. Foul! Any way around their nickeling and diming is a good thing.

  22. Thanks for this article! I was trying to figure out how to re-purpose my iPhone 3G for my in-laws without paying for data. They just want to make calls and play crossword puzzles. Any other links to this process people know of please post to comments. Thanks

  23. “without any jailbreaking or other “phone hacking.”

    I still would call Shifty APN changes Phone hacking at a very basic level.this process worked rather well for my girlfriend.

    -good article!