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 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.