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

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 unlockit.co.nz 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. This works for the iPhone 4 as well. You’ll have to trim the SIM card though. And make sure that you have a data plan before you use the custom APN or your account will be charged .01/kb.

    Also, can I get unlimited data? Or at least more data than 200MB? I use that in like a week.

    • I purchased a GoPhone at Walmart and got it set up only to have it not work in the 3G. I finally figured the Go phone card had gone bad. Took it all back – it was not easy to get my money back but I did.

      I purchased a second $19.99 GoPhone at Target recently. I only want to use it for phone calls in my 3G not Data. Before I did anything I read on the GoPhone package: “Once the device and SIM are activated, SIM cannot be used with any other device for a period of time. See quick start guide for additional information.” – What does this mean? How long is a period of time? I have read above some folks say 3 months.

      Does anyone no what this “Period of time is all about?” It just seems to me that if I activate the GO Phone and in less that a day put the Sim card in my Iphone 3G that it will not work.

      Has anyone bought a Go Phone card recently, activated it on the Go Phone, and then transferred the SIM card to the Iphone with success?

      Or do I activate the card in the Iphone first and not in the Gophone?

      It is a little confusing in the article above where it says “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”.

      Note it really does not say which phone you activate the card in.

  2. As of December 9th, 2010, this still works. I just tried it with my iPhone 3G and surfed flawlessly on AT&T at 3G speeds with a newly purchased GoPhone SIM card.

    Now I can take the superfluous Samsung prepaid phone (net cost $5) and donate it to charity so I can make someone else’s day this holiday season.

  3. I found an iPhone 3G 16GB at work one day. After waiting a week for the owner to claim it, it was never claimed. I had been using GoPhone for a few years so when I got the iPhone I put my gophone SIM in and it worked fine. Later on I updated the iPhone to OS 4 and it killed the wifi like it did to many 3Gs. I sold the iPhone and bought another 3G and the SIM worked perfectly in that iPhone also.
    I don’t think you are going to use the iPhone with the gophone prepaid for data. It is too expensive.
    The article is about giving your old iPhone new life and the gophone does just that. GoPhone is now actually a decent prepaid service. Instead of $1/day + .10c/min it is now $2/day unlimited talk/text which is very good for At&t.

    I wish there were a prepaid plan where you could use the old iPhone unlocked of course. Something like Boost where it is ~$50 unlimited talk/text/data. Boost uses iDen so its a no go, but does T-Mobile have an unlimited prepaid plan that you could use unlocked iPhones on?

    BTW, one of the users stated earlier about using a gophone sim and it said “no service”. I occasionally get that, but I have jailbroken/unlocked mine. If you iPhone is unlocked sometimes it will not connect to the At&t network and you have to reboot the phone. Then it works fine.

  4. Works perfect, though connection speed is a tad slow, on my old iPhone 2G, 3.1.3, unlocked, jbken.
    Was able to log into Skype. Got a warning about “using edge/3g that would decrease my credit” and suggestion to “switch to wifi or suscribe to a data plan”.
    Thanks for this How-To, it’s great!

  5. It worked for me, not sure why since I did what many others did – bought a gophone, activated the sim in the gophone, then transferred the sim into the iphone (3G). Only problem? I tested one webpage to see if the data worked – then I got a text message saying that I had used up $15 and had $0 in my account! One webpage!

  6. Not having much luck either. Like everyone else, I got stuck with the “Connect to iTunes” issue with my 2G. So I decided to go the jailbreak/unlock approach – so went with Spirit & redsn0w. So no “Connect to iTunes” issues now and I’m able to still sync with iTunes. But after making the suggested APN changes, I’m still not getting any service – SIM works fine if I put it back in my GoPhone (I got a GoPhone with $15 credit). Any help would be appreciated.

  7. Adam McNutt

    I’m heading out for the evening, but will post and answer some questions when I get back tonight. I’ll answer the long one later, but do want to address the short one now.

    You don’t need an active SIM to run the iTunes activation. Hence the article about giving life to your OLD iPhone. Use the old inactive SIM and it’ll pass through iTunes. That’s what I did. I have also used my prepay GoPhone SIM and it’s worked for me as well. I think it just needs a SIM to get through.

  8. spinoza2

    Hmm, from my own experience and from these comments it seems pretty clear that the information in this blog post from Dave Greenbaum is bogus and incorrect. Before doing any of this stuff with an APN you need to be able to get around the iPhone activation with iTunes and a new SIM card, whether a GoPhone card or otherwise. This wasn’t touched on by Greenbaum, because it seems impossible to do without unlocking the phone. I haven’t been able to find a way around this, and obviously the others here haven’t either.

  9. Can I reset this discussion, and ask a question about my situation? Hopefully I’ll give a thorough description of what I’m trying to do, and if someone can answer it well, others will be able to see it without picking through all the fragmented other comments.

    I own a never-before-activated 2G iPhone. (I’ve had it jailbroken for the past few years, but have restored it so now it’s fresh again.) I have the SIM that came with it, which I recently used to sign up for a small GoPhone plan on AT&T’s website, but have never used.

    My goal is to use the iPhone just for iPod and wifi. If it works as an emergency GoPhone, so much the better, but I don’t really care.

    So, I’m currently stuck at the “Connect to iTunes” prompt. In order to get past it, I have tried to use my SIM, which now has $15 GoPhone credit on it, and is associated with my device’s IMEI. But, probably since the activation process recognizes the SIM as being associated with a non-iPhone-sanctioned plan, it terminates and gives me a message to call customer service.

    From this site and others, I’ve determined that one way around this problem is to use a friend’s SIM, which is currently activated in her 3G. So, I put that in my device, and connect it to the computer. Then, in iTunes, when I click Activate, the next page displays my friend’s phone number, which I assume it deduced from her SIM.

    I don’t know whether I should accept that and continue forward, or substitute my own device’s phone number (which was emailed to me when I signed up for the GoPhone account). My concern is that I don’t want to somehow end up with A) her phone number ringing on my device, B) taint her SIM with either my phone number or my IMEI, or C) give AT&T a reason to investigate either of us. Maybe none of these are real risks, but they are what I’m worried about.

    So, I guess my question is: Whose phone number do I put into this box on iTunes, when using her SIM card to activate my device? And then, what further questions will I be asked in the activation process, and how should I answer them in a way that eventually results in her getting her SIM back and being able to use her phone just as before, and my being able to use my phone to sync with my computer for music and otherwise access the web via wifi?

    Then, once I get through the activation process, should I physically put in my own SIM (now associated with GoPhone), or just leave out any SIM altogether? I think the answer is that either would work for my purposes of just syncing music and using wifi.

    I won’t upgrade the firmware (3.1.x) or do a restore, from this point on; or at least if I do, I’ll know that I need to do this process again.

    Hope this made some sense, and that you guys can give a good answer that I and others can learn from.

  10. Adam McNutt

    MIK33:
    AT&T wouldn’t let me port my number to a prepay account. Wouldn’t hurt to call and ask if it’s changed in the past few months.

    Kaylaa:
    I have always been able to text on mine. Just costs $0.20 per text, though on AT&T’s prepay plan I have.

  11. Regarding the photo in step #2… Can I use this on a currently activated iPhone to create a fake APN and disable data altogether? Does the fake APN mask the iPhone from AT&T so that it would be similar to an unlocked phone?… Allowing me then to cancel the iPhone data plan and just use wifi?

  12. sirjef

    Guys, this is what i did. hopefully it can help someone out.
    1. bought an iphone 3GS that wasnt activated (you know, with the dreaded, “insert active SIM card to activate” message that only lets you place emergency calls?)

    2. bought an AT&T SIM card on Ebay. 2 bucks all together. (1.00 for it, 1.00 shipping.) how can you argue with that?

    3. activated SIM on https://www.wireless.att.com/activations/
    (pay-as-you-go)

    went through the steps, i made up my IMEI number. works fine.got my new number, selected my plan, added minutes, texting plans, etc.

    4. placed SIM inside of Iphone, took a sec but iPhone activated and my bars appeared!

    i don’t know if i have to use this apn changer, could i just buy a data plan from my gophone service? help me out here. i can already call and text.

    Tested on iPhone 3GS running iOS 4.0.1 (not jailbroken)

    thanks guys!

  13. Christine

    Anyone know what I should be looking for when buying a used iphone? I was looking on craigslist and see lots of the 3g for around $200 and even a few 2g for $100. Is there any particular problems with these models? Any help would be appreciated

  14. Adam McNutt

    That’s what I did. I did it after having my GoPhone for a while, though. Had it maybe 6 months before I got a 3GS from a friend. So I don’t know if the having to wait 3 months like others have stated is what you have to do or not.

  15. Adam McNutt

    My card came with data, but if you go into your online GoPhone account management, you can add data from there. They tell you the iPhone is a nogo on data at the store because it is a smart phone. GoPhones use dumbphone data. Using this APN change gets around that. :-D

  16. Tyler, you say you just got a card and you can use data and voice.

    What did you ask for at the store? ATT doesn’t say anything about data with their prepaid service, so how did you do it?

    And how much does this alleged data plan cost?

    • Rusharound

      I’d be interested in hearing this, too. I called two local AT&T retailers to get a SIM card (no phone, just a SIM card) and they said they wouldn’t sell one to me unless I brought in a phone. …and an iPhone is not an eligible phone for this.