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How To: Use The iPhone With Prepaid Plans

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Recently (actually since about Fall 2010) people have been asking me via email and in-person about using the iPhone on prepaid plans. In other words, can the iPhone be used with a mobile carrier without a contracted plan.

Ask, and ye shall receive. The answer is Yes.

Prepaid Definitions

Before we detail how to use the iPhone with Prepaid, let’s first establish what Prepaid is. In Canada, the Big Boy mobile carriers all have prepaid plans (so do the rest of the carriers, but today we focus on these guys):

Each carrier offers different rates (links above), restrictions, and features but they all share a common trait which is no contracts. Prepaid is a great option for people with bad/no credit, people not yet of age majority, or for those of us that are traveling.

However, do note that the mobile carriers in Canada do typically offer their contract-based plans on month-to-month terms as well, but these plans normally cost much more per month and may be more features than a Prepaid customer is look for.

Also worth noting is that data plans and tethering are not (generally) available on Prepaid plans (you can still use WiFi though). The only Internet option you have with Prepaid is purchasing Internet by the day (some carriers offer monthly prepaid plans). As you can imagine, this can add up quickly. So if you want 3G data from your mobile carrier, stick with the regular postpaid monthly plans that include voice and data.

Next Steps

Step 1

The first step is to acquire an iPhone. When it comes to Prepaid, this can be done is two ways: purchasing at full price from an Apple Store or receiving the iPhone from a friend/buying it online via eBay, Craigslist, etc.

The point here is that no carrier will offer an iPhone at the promotional $159/$269 price without a 3-year contract.

Assuming you have your iPhone, if the device is unlocked you may choose any of the available mobile carriers. If the device is locked, you can only use the carrier in which the device is locked to. For example, locked to Fido means Fido service only (unless of course you jailbreak/unlock your device, but that’s a different story).

Step 2

So now you have your iPhone. The second step is to decide on a Prepaid plan from the carriers.

Step 3

Once you have chosen your plan, we move to step three which is locating a SIM card for your device. The absolute best place to do this is at an Apple Store, as the SIM is free. However, if you are not near an Apple Store, visit your local mobile carrier retail store and buy a SIM card.

Step 4

Now you have your iPhone, SIM card, and plan. Step four requires you to activate service. This can be done online (easiest) or at the mobile carrier store. After activation, put the SIM into the iPhone and voila!

Note that Prepaid packages DO NOT come with any type of activation charges/fees. So if you’re at a retail store and the commissioned rep asks for one, do not pay. If they persist, leave and activate online for free.

Housekeeping

Earlier we established that Prepaid plans do not (generally) include data plans. A best practice to avoid possible data charges is to disable 3G and/or Cellular Data on your device (where applicable, as not all iPhone’s have this option). Since you won’t need mobile data, might as well protect yourself and save battery life by toggling off the iPhone data functions.

If you’re with Rogers/Fido:

  • Settings > General > Network
  • Enable 3G: Toggle Off
  • Cellular Data: Toggle Off

If you’re with Bell/Telus:

  • Settings > General > Network
  • Cellular Data: Toggle Off
  • Note: 3G must remain on with Bell/Telus in order to use the phone as a phone.

Hope this helps.

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  • Sean

    Fido does have data available on a monthly rate for prepaid, as long as its paired with one of the monthly prepaid voice and text plans. its the same as the postpaid option, $25 for 500mb, just an FYI

  • Anonymous

    Prepaid data on Rogers:

    My iPhone 3GS is on Rogers and is totally prepaid (it’s on their ‘all day’ plan – I rarely use it for phone calls), and it works great for data.  Rogers offers two options for pay-as-you-go data – a “data day pass” for $2/day and a “data week pass” for $7/week.  Both of these are only activated on an as-you-need-it basis.  Neither plan includes much data (20MB for a day pass and 125MB for a week pass), but I’ve found it to be more than enough for light web surfing, email checking, Twitter, etc.

    As long as 3G data is activated on the phone, if you attempt to browse to a web site without one of the above plans, you’re prompted to purchase one (either for a day or a week) right from the device, and it’s activated instantly once you purchase it.

    Because I don’t use the phone for very many voice calls (just texts and data), my monthly cost is usually about $26 or so – $5/mo for a text package and around $21 for three week passes for data.  If I need to make a phone call, the capability is there, but I don’t need to worry about paying a considerably-larger monthly bill for a service that I don’t use that much.

  • Anonymous

    Prepaid data on Rogers:

    My iPhone 3GS is on Rogers and is totally prepaid (it’s on their ‘all day’ plan – I rarely use it for phone calls), and it works great for data.  Rogers offers two options for pay-as-you-go data – a “data day pass” for $2/day and a “data week pass” for $7/week.  Both of these are only activated on an as-you-need-it basis.  Neither plan includes much data (20MB for a day pass and 125MB for a week pass), but I’ve found it to be more than enough for light web surfing, email checking, Twitter, etc.

    As long as 3G data is activated on the phone, if you attempt to browse to a web site without one of the above plans, you’re prompted to purchase one (either for a day or a week) right from the device, and it’s activated instantly once you purchase it.

    Because I don’t use the phone for very many voice calls (just texts and data), my monthly cost is usually about $26 or so – $5/mo for a text package and around $21 for three week passes for data.  If I need to make a phone call, the capability is there, but I don’t need to worry about paying a considerably-larger monthly bill for a service that I don’t use that much.

  • Myupsdriver

    Or, u can just use viber when in a wifi area. Find person with blackberry and use their # for registering. Voila!

  • Decking

    Other carriers such as PetroCanada and 7-eleven support iPhone as well (jailbroken iPhone ), my iphone 3G is working well (data only work in WIFI area).

  • ORbital_

    Telus offers a $20 unlimited text plan with 250MB of data, which is great for iPhone users.

  • PAYG_iphone

    Hi George

    Thanks for the post. I too have a PAYG Rogers iPhone that works just fine for voice calls. Once or twice a year I need to have data on the go and so have purchased the “Data Day Pass” you describe. Last weekend this didn’t work for me — no matter what I did (3G or Edge) I was unable to connect to the data network. The signal showed up fine, and the main screen shows 3G or Edge as the case may be but launching Safari didn’t result in the previous offer to buy a Data Day Pass. Has something changed from Rogers that is now blocking non-Blackberry devices from taking advantage of this offer? When I go onto myRogers on my computer the Data Day Pass is not offered as an option, only a 30 day plan.

  • Anonymous

    I’ve been using a “data week pass” all day today on my iPhone 3GS without problems.  Within the past few months Rogers even reformatted some of the purchase screens to make them more viewable in Safari, so I’d be surprised if they were getting rid of the option.

  • Anonymous

    I’ve been using a “data week pass” all day today on my iPhone 3GS without problems.  Within the past few months Rogers even reformatted some of the purchase screens to make them more viewable in Safari, so I’d be surprised if they were getting rid of the option.

  • Anonymous

    I’ve been using a “data week pass” all day today on my iPhone 3GS without problems.  Within the past few months Rogers even reformatted some of the purchase screens to make them more viewable in Safari, so I’d be surprised if they were getting rid of the option.

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  • Kat.

    Will this information work on a 4s?

  • Kat.

    Also, if the iphone is locked to a certain provider are you still able to use a pay as you go plan from the provider it is locked too?

  • nickrules998

    Does this work on every iphone

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