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How to Use an iPhone Without a Data Plan (Voice Only)

You can save a lot of money by not using a data plan with your iPhone. But there’s only one problem: AT&T doesn’t offer a voice-only plan for the iPhone. There is a solution. It requires two things:

  1. An unlocked iPhone.
  2. A prepaid sim card from a T-Mobile store.

Step 1. Buying a Prepaid T-Mobile Sim Card:

To use a voice-only plan with the iPhone 3G, 3GS, or first-gen iPhone, you’re going to need a T-Mobile sim card (iPhone 4 requires a mini-sim). Check to make sure T-Mobile has service in your area.

The easiest way to get a prepaid T-Mobile sim card is to go to a T-Mobile retail store and simply tell them what you want. Make sure to bring some form of ID. You can even tell them that you’re going to put the sim card in a unlocked iPhone, as many T-Mobile customers use unlocked iPhones (a T-Mobile cashier even once admitted to me he used an unlocked iPhone).

Cost

The cost of getting started with a prepaid T-Mobile voice-only sim card is as cheap as $22.05 (includes an activation fee) that comes with 30-60 minutes. The prepaid card (called Pay As You Go) can then be refilled as you go, no monthly fees! The current prices for T-Mobile’s minutes are:

  • $10 for 30 minutes
  • $25 for 130 minutes
  • $50 for 400 minutes
  • $100 for 1000 minutes

Text messages under the Pay As You Go plan are $0.05 to receive and $0.10 to send. There are also monthly plans and pay-by-the-day plans available as well. T-Mobile’s official prepaid plans website has more info. Here’s where you can buy a prepaid T-Mobile SIM card to stick in your iPhone. And here’s where you can activate it.

Step 2. Jailbreak and Unlock the iPhone

The process of jailbreaking and unlocking your iPhone can be easy, but finding the right information and software for the job is often difficult. Why? Because every time Apple updates the iPhone software, someone must figure out how to jailbreak and unlock it all over again. This often requires new jailbreak/unlocking software for each version. There are also many schemes and scams out there that cloud Google search results and make your task of finding the correct software more difficult. If you want to save yourself the trouble, you can purchase unlocked iPhones off of eBay, but be prepared to spend some money.

We’ll get to some tips on how to jailbreak and unlock your iPhone in a second, but first, a quick definition of the terminology:

Jailbreak: Changing the iPhone’s software so that you can put non-Apple-approved software on it and change the way the iPhone software looks and behaves.

Unlock: Changing the iPhone’s software so it can be used with a carrier other than AT&T (in the US).

Jailbreaking and Unlocking Tips

Because jailbreaking and unlocking can require different methods each time Apple updates its software, it’s important to get good instructions. iClarified.com is one of the best sites for getting step-by-step instructions.

Tips:

  • Don’t ever pay for jailbreaking or unlocking software.
  • Make sure to run through the comments on any website to confirm that the software indeed works. If the site doesn’t have comments, don’t use the software/instructions.
  • Google the terms jailbreak and/or unlock and the version of the iPhone OS to find the correct jailbreaking/unlocking software. For example, search for iPhone Jailbreak 3.1.3 and iPhone 3.1.3 unlock to unlock iPhone OS 3.1.3.
  • To find out the version of the iPhone OS, go to the iPhone Settings–>General—>About and look at the number next to Version.
  • Read up on the dangers of jailbreaking your iPhone, including possible security issues.
  • iClarified.com is a great site for step-by-step jailbreaking instructions.
  • Jailbreaking and unlocking are two separate processes. Some software does both for you, but oftentimes you must use different software for each.
  • Some jailbreaking software, like Spirit, only jailbreaks and does not unlock the iPhone for use on other carriers
  • After a successful jailbreak and unlock, do not accept Apple’s iPhone OS software updates, else your unlock will stop working.
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  1. Kevin Grierson says:

    No need to jailbreak the iPhone or use it on a different network. I gave my son my old iPhone 3G when I bought a 3GS, and we just put his old AT&T simcard into that phone. He has no data plan, but can access wi-fi and otherwise use the phone normally–no jailbreaking required.

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    • Alan says:

      AT&T will automatically add a data plan onto your son’s account. They might not do it right away, but they will eventually. AT&T requires iPhone users to have data plans. It’s in the terms.

      But until then, enjoy. Some people can go for a few months without AT&T finding out.

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  2. Jordan says:

    Can you text even with the sim card?

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  3. Alan says:

    Jordan :

    Can you text even with the sim card?

    Yes, you can send and receive SMS text messages with T-Mobile prepaid. But it costs extra, depending on the plan. I do the refill thing, so for me it’s 10 cents to receive a text message, and 25 cents to send.

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  4. Pete says:

    Kevin, as long as your son shuts off the phone system before going wifi, they will never pick up that you need a data plane. (I assume you can put the iPhone in flight mode or something similar. I don’t have one yet.)
    I have had an unlocked smart phone on AT&T for a couple of years and do not have to pay for a data plan.
    This is why I will not upgrade my phone through my carrier. It is not worth $360 a year to have access to the internet when i can just wait until I get home!

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  5. nellie says:

    my wife got the new 3gs and I put my sim card in her old 3g and have been using it for almost 2yrs with no prob.

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  6. KG says:

    I had someone at a T-mobile retailer tell me that the Iphone would still take data off their network, even if data is disabled on the phone and even if I didn’t set up a plan (they would start charging me for using it). I tried shopping for the SIM card on their website anyway but their site won’t let me buy one without a plan. When I go to choose a plan, pre-pay is not an option. Any ideas to help me out?

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  7. Alan says:

    KG :

    I had someone at a T-mobile retailer tell me that the Iphone would still take data off their network, even if data is disabled on the phone and even if I didn’t set up a plan (they would start charging me for using it). I tried shopping for the SIM card on their website anyway but their site won’t let me buy one without a plan. When I go to choose a plan, pre-pay is not an option. Any ideas to help me out?

    Here’s the link to buy the SIM:

    http://www.t-mobile.com/shop/phones/cell-phone-detail.aspx?class=prepaid&cell-phone=Prepaid-T-Mobile-SIM-Activation-Kit

    And then you’ll have to activate it and buy some minutes, which you can do on the site. Here’s the link for that.

    http://www.t-mobile.com/shop/plans/activateprepaid.aspx

    I’ve updated the article and added the link to buy the SIM.

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  8. Vijay says:

    wow this is great really appreciate a current guide on how to do this
    BUT 1 QUESTION
    what if people would want to call me?????
    (like would i have my own phone number)

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    • Alan says:

      would i have my own phone number?

      Yes, you would have a phone number. T-Mobile gives you a phone number when you activate a prepaid plan.

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  9. KG says:

    Unfortunately, after many long and useless phone calls with T-Mobile, they could not get me an activation code that works. What baffles me is that they want me to send the phone back for a refund. They don’t want my business. Bizarre.

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  10. Alan says:

    KG :

    Unfortunately, after many long and useless phone calls with T-Mobile, they could not get me an activation code that works. What baffles me is that they want me to send the phone back for a refund. They don’t want my business. Bizarre.

    You’re better off taking the iPhone into a T-Mobile store and explaining what you want.

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  11. Mark says:

    KG, the activation code is on the credit card sized unit the SIM is part of. The light grey numbers at the bottom is the code (19 numbers). You can just go to your local T-Mobile store and they should give you a new one if you have already paid.
    I had trouble with my PUK (PIN) number and the card locked. The support guy gave me the two they have for a ‘monthly’ card, which doesn’t work with prepaid, Finally got through to Prepaid support and the girl gave the right number and unlocked it. One hand not talking to the other it seems. :-)
    Unfortunately, I still don’t have it working…another issue with the phone I believe…back to hacking. :-)
    3G downgraded from 4.1 to 3.1.3. Jailbroken and unlocked.
    Any ideas would be appreciated!

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  12. Karla says:

    Do I have to use a T-MOBILE PREPAID SIM? or can I use an at&t SIM with only voice (calls+texting) and no data?

    I have a standard voice plan only and I want to put my SIM into my dad’s old 1st gen iPhone. Do I have to jailbreak AND unlock the phone?

    And also:

    nellie :

    my wife got the new 3gs and I put my sim card in her old 3g and have been using it for almost 2yrs with no prob.

    how risky is doing something like that?

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    • Alan says:

      Do I have to use a T-MOBILE PREPAID SIM? or can I use an at&t SIM with only voice (calls+texting) and no data?

      I have a standard voice plan only and I want to put my SIM into my dad’s old 1st gen iPhone. Do I have to jailbreak AND unlock the phone?

      And also:

      nellie :

      my wife got the new 3gs and I put my sim card in her old 3g and have been using it for almost 2yrs with no prob.

      how risky is doing something like that?

      I’ve heard stories of AT&T charging customers the minimal iPhone plan once they detect a AT&T sim card that is not authorized for the iPhone by a 2-year contract.

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  13. Kirk says:

    Kevin or Nellie,

    How do I get the iPhone 3G open to swap the SIM card?

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  14. Kirk says:

    Never mind the previous question …. i found where the SIM card is and how to get it out with the help of a paperclip.

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  15. Maude says:

    If I put my iphone on airplane mode, At&t will not add a data plan to me?

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  16. Mike wiliams says:

    I tried to just put my AT&T sim card in but it makes me plug it into iTunes what should I do

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  17. mark says:

    anyone help please: gave old I-phone to son who is too young to need voice plan and no data plan needed. He was thrilled as he was downloading games with Wifi and taking photos, etc. until we attempted to synch music with his device through I-tunes. All apps that existed were wiped out and device only shows use as an emergency phone (locked). We did not back up, however not so concerned about the content, bcause all were free apps., just want to be able to have him use device again to play games without voice or data plans – just as before… how to we go about making device functional again from this mode (locked)???

    any help is much appreciated – gave old I-phone to son for Christmas and just got wifi in the house – he was thrilled for a few moments before his world crumbled. Would make his day if you could help with our issue – I-phone neophyte here…

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  18. Alan says:

    anyone help please: gave old I-phone to son who is too young to need voice plan and no data plan needed. He was thrilled as he was downloading games with Wifi and taking photos, etc. until we attempted to synch music with his device through I-tunes. All apps that existed were wiped out and device only shows use as an emergency phone (locked). We did not back up, however not so concerned about the content, bcause all were free apps., just want to be able to have him use device again to play games without voice or data plans – just as before… how to we go about making device functional again from this mode (locked)???

    Jailbreak the iPhone. See the last section of the article.

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  19. mark says:

    All great comments, but we did not ever have, nor do we want/need voice service for my son (too young)…just want to be able to use the device (not for phone, not for data) – just to pick up wifi and play games, like a cheaper (free) version of the I-touch…? need direction on how to A.) unlock phone, and b.) restore its base functionality as a PDA device (no service – voice or data) desired or wanted in this case… don’t know where to start???

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  20. jim says:

    is there any way to keep at&t from knowing that you have a jailbroken, voice-only iphone (i.e., so that at&t thinks i’m using my old flip phone)?

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  21. Krik says:

    Mark, My daughter has an Iphone setup the way you described for over a year all we did was remove the sim card, and then logged into itunes, it has been backed up and updated several times since we started, it is not jailbroken or otherwise messed with in any way, and she has wifi access only. We did also wipe it using the restore Iphone button and named it differently to keep my apps off of her phone but afterwards felt like that was unnecessary.

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  22. kesty says:

    where/how do u put the sim card in the iphone??

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  23. Zachhh says:

    I would like to know is their any way to use an iPhone with voice and text without a data plan I got my dads bosses old 3G and it worked for about a month then I suddenly gOt data and I have no clue what to do HELP

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  24. christian says:

    If you are going to use your iphone without a data plan, make sure you turn off the cellular data in Settings > General > Network. You also need to turn off MMS messaging because that service uses data, unlike SMS. You can find the MMS setting under Settings > Messages.

    Email option: you can have emails sent to your phone via text messaging. You will only receive the first 160 characters, but that should give you a good idea what the message is about, and if the message is important enough you can make your way to a location where you can get wifi to check your email.

    Hopefully you have free incoming texts to make this worthwhile. You still need to setup your regular email accounts on your phone, which you check via wifi when in range.

    You can forward emails to your phone as a text message through Gmail, Hotmail, and I imagine most other email services. Look in setting – forwarding.

    Also, if you have Gmail, you can manage your contacts through Gmail and have them merge to your phone. This way your contacts are stored in your gmail account in case you ever lost your phone. Look up: set up google contacts exchange. You need to set up your Gmail account on the iPhone as an exchange account, rather than through the native Gmail set up on the iPhone. Contacts sync both ways, so if you make a change on your phone it will also change on your Gmail account.

    Mark – Look up Hacktivate Iphone.

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  25. David says:

    Great article, thanks for the info and responses to questions. I just had an idea to use my old (1st gen) iPhone as a nanny tracking device using mobile me. I didn’t realize that the phone would still need to access a cell network (or internet) to tell me where it is, so I thought I was out of luck. Sounds like I will be able to T-Mobile it and Jailbreak it and it should work. Don’t care about making calls or receiving texts, etc. just want the phone to be able to tell me where it is. Thanks!

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  26. David says:

    Oh blast…after thinking through my own comment I realized I’m an idiot. This solution is for voice only use which still doesn’t solve my problem. Well if anyone has any ideas let me know. Thanks.

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  27. Ovy says:

    If i have a t-mobile family plan, can i just put my sim card in an unlocked iphone and be able to use it without a data plan?

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  28. Ovy says:

    Im talking about Iphone 3gs btw!

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  29. kim says:

    okay so here’s the thing: i have a lg neon right now and its with this company that real cheap, its called airvoice wireless. ive never had an iphone 4 before but i want to get one. i was wondering if i could just buy the iphone from at&t with out a contract/data plan then just stick the sim card thats in my lg neon in the iphone 4, wuld i still be able to access internet?? it worked fine with my lg neon, and the lg neon it from at&t. anyone have any answers that might help or any sugestions??

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