iPhone 4 3G prepaid data plan for WWDC

By uliwitness


Update 2015: This year I went with a T-Mobile card. They have a data-only card that is $13 for 1GB. I had to keep prodding them “don’t you have anything smaller” for a while to get them to stop offering me 3x as expensive plans with phone service, but beyond that you can now just go in and ask for “a data card for my iPhone for about 1 week”. Coverage is fine inside SF proper, I haven’t tried it in the valley yet, Their 4G frequencies (that’s a bit under LTE) are in the proper range for European phones.
Update 2014: AT&T still has GoPhone plans. They’re now slightly different in size and cost: There’s two plans, one $40 (500MB included, for every additional 100MB you have to top it up with an additional $5) and $60 (2.5GB included, each 1GB is a $10 top-up). You just go there, tell them what phone you have and which plan you want, pay, and Roberta’s your aunt. No APN adjustments or cutting down cards needed.
Note: There’s also T-Mobile plans, apparently, but depending on what iPhone model you have (e.g. the European one) you may not get reception in some areas because e.g. the European iPhone 5 doesn’t support the frequency that T-Mobile US broadcasts on, or T-Mobile doesn’t have coverage in that area outside the Bay Area. Leave a comment if you know details or have personal experiences.
I’ll leave the remainder of the old article here for the links and out of historical interest.

So, you’re going to WWDC and you want to have data on your iPhone 4. What to do?

  • Go to an AT&T store, and tell them you want one of their GoPhone pre-paid plans (Type in an SF ZIP code, e.g. 94133, to get to the actual page) There are two monthly (i.e. 1 month, pay again if you need another month) plans that you can get that allow data: the $25 and the $50 monthly plan. You’ll also need a data package – they offer 50MB ($5), 200MB ($15) or 1GB ($25). They will want to see some form of ID, make sure you have it.
  • Do not tell them it’s for an iPhone. If your conscience permits, say you don’t know what phone it is, you’re getting a hand-me-down from a friend later in the day, or it’s for an Android phone, or whatever. They will warn you it won’t work for an iPhone. Disclaimer: AT&T give no refunds, so if you buy the card and it really doesn’t work, it’s on your own head if that should be true one day.
  • They will give you an orange, regular-size SIM. Get a ruler, a soft pencil (HB will do), and a pair of scissors. Grab this fantastic template (the PDF link is broken, grab the JPEG that you can click to zoom in and print at 110%): My iPhone iPad blog: Convert SIM to micro-SIM. Then mark the lines on your SIM card with the pencil and the ruler and cut them using the scissors. It’s fairly easy, the chip has gotten smaller with the newer SIM cards. Don’t cut the chip! Again, if you break your card doing this, that’s your problem.

  • If you put in the card now (you’ll need a paperclip or so to open the SIM tray), it should already be recognized. I haven’t actually verified it myself, but the site above says that internet won’t work (and that’s what the shop guy says as well). So now you’ll have to point your iPhone’s browser at a special web site and create the proper APN settings file for it and activate that. You’ll need hotel Wi-Fi or so to do that part. Alternately, you can use the iPhone configuration tool from Apple and create a .mobileconfig file with the APN wap.cingular, APN user name wap@cingulargprs.com and password CINGULAR1.

Once I did that, it worked fine for me. Again, I make no warranties. If you break the card, nuke your credit, fry your iPhone or get sued by Lodsys for doing this, that’s your own risk.

9 Comments Leave a comment

  1. marc hoffman 2011-06-05 at 14:58 Reply

    AT&T actually has micro-sims.. Just ask them for one, and you can save yourself some time cutting together regular sim. I bought mine yesterday, works like a charm.

  2. Haha! What a pity you couldn’t make it to the makerfaire.com, too, :-D

  3. marc, that’s true, though the iPhone is pretty much the only smart phone that seems to be using them. Some people have been turned around the moment they asked for a Micro-SIM. But it’s worth trying, I hear more and more reports of people who asked for one and got it.

  4. Daniel Stine 2012-06-07 at 14:37 Reply

    The Lumia 900 uses a micro-SIM and happens to be available pay-as-you-go from AT&T, so it should be possible to say that your phone is a Lumia and get a micro-SIM. I’ve also read reports that AT&T stores will let you get a PAYG plan for iPhone if you tell them it’s for an iPhone, but they’ll let you know that data won’t work and may not let you buy a data plan.

  5. If you go with AT&T GoPhone you can dial *777*3# to check your remaining data. Also handy is 661 is the service number AT&T. You can activate the data plan there.

  6. I asked them for a micro-sim for my 4s and when they pretended it won’t work, I just said I don’t care… And after some explanations that they won’t refund the money, they activated the card and I was good to go…

  7. Jeremy Bower 2013-06-07 at 14:30 Reply

    If you’re coming from Canada, Roam Mobility looks like a good bet. They resell Sprint wireless and offer unlimited US and Canadian calls. It works with iPhone (they even have nano SIMs) and the number lasts for a year.

    The same company also offers a slightly different product. It’s prepaid SIM cards for short-term wireless service. Buy the package you want. It lasts 30 days (or until the limit is reached). The SIM deactivates after 72 hours if you don’t buy more services.

  8. Last time I was at WWDC (2012) I used AT&T and did indeed tell them I wasn’t going to use it in my iPhone. I told them I had an older phone that I needed it for. I don’t remember what lies I came up with but I somehow got them to cut it to the micro sim form factor. It might be harder for iPhone 5/5s since older phones usually don’t use a nano sim.

    However you can just walk into any T-Mobile store and ask them for a prepaid card for your iPhone and they will happily sell you one. I think the plan is around $50 with 1GB of data.

    Once that runs out you can’t easily add more data to it (they let you buy more minutes online) so the easiest way is to switch it to a $3 p/day plan that includes 200MB of data a day. This can all be done online and last time I did it at the airport while waiting for my bags.

    They say it will only give you 3G speeds for the first 200MB and then switch to Edge but in my experience I was getting LTE speeds or around 20-30mbits up/down.

    I’m not sure about the coverage in SF but I was in Cupertino last time I was in the states and it worked great. I also drove around the Bay Area and never experienced any problems.

    I was using iPhone 5 (A1429) in LA on T-Mobile. That didn’t give me LTE but 3G worked fine. The coverage was also pretty good.

    All the iPhone 5s models should support T-Mobile LTE since it has almost all the bands available. I used my iPhone 5s (A1533) on LTE a few weeks ago in the Bay Area.

  9. Daniel Stine 2015-04-30 at 15:34 Reply

    As of 2015, you can use prepaid AT&T GoPhone plans with an unlocked iPhone, no hoops to jump through. In fact, I’m currently using an iPhone on AT&T with a prepaid plan and told the store that it’s for an iPhone. And data, visual voicemail, etc. work as expected.

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