Comparing AT&T to T-MobileThe iPhone only works with the GSM network. AFAIK, T-Mobile is the only other major carrier in the United States with a GSM network and hence was the 1st choice for an alternative carrier. Plus, my friend's T-Mobile phone worked great in my home. Here's how my original AT&T plan from July 2009 (Nation 450 Rollover & 5000 Night/Weekend) stacked up against T-Mobile's most similar plan (Individual Even More Plus 500 Talk + Text + Web).
|AT&T's Nation 450 Rollover||T-Mobile Individual Even More Plus 500|
|~ $85/month (after all fees)||~ $65/month (after all fees)|
|$36 activation fee||$35 activation fee|
|450 minutes/month||500 minutes/month|
|5000 Night/Weekend minutes/month||Unlimited Night/Weekend minutes/month|
|minutes rollover||minutes don't rollover|
|200 texts/month||unlimited texts/month|
|2 year contract with $175 Early Termination Free||No contract, month to month|
|Unlimited data||Unlimited data|
|Relatively fast 3G network||3G network not available for iPhone, slower Edge network only|
|Visual voicemail||No visual voicemail|
|Shitty reception in my new home||Excellent reception in my new home|
|Feeling forced into a contract just for an iPhone||Feeling like an iPhone ninja that does whatever he/she wants|
T-Mobile was the clear winner - but its worth reiterating it's major drawbacks:
- No 3G, slower Edge data network only
- No visual voicemail
Wait... I don't have an iPhone yet. How should I get one?No problem. If you're looking to get an iPhone without the AT&T plan, there are a few different things you can do.
- New/used on Ebay: Depending on the model:
- Signup for AT&T and cancel after 30 days: According to AT&T's latest return policy, you can cancel the service after 30 days and you can keep the phone. This comes at the cost of $325 (minus $10 for each additional month you have service). So a few examples of the total cost:
- iPhone 3G 16GB (refurb): $99 phone + $60 for 1 month of cheapest service + $36 activation fee + $325 termination fee = $520
- iPhone 3GS 16GB: $149 phone + $60 for 1 month of cheapest service + $36 activation fee + $325 termination fee = $570
- iPhone 4 16GB: $199 phone + $60 for 1 month of cheapest service + $36 activation fee + $325 termination fee = $620
- Signup for AT&T and cancel immediately: You can avoid the $325 "Early Termination Fee" by canceling service within 30 days of the activation date. In this case, AT&T expects you to return the phone - but since you're not going to do that, they'll charge you for it's retail price. Oddly enough, Apple could only tell me the retail prices of the following models:
- iPhone 3GS 8GB: $499 phone + $36 activation fee = $535 *
- iPhone 4 16GB: $599 phone + $36 activation fee = $635 *
Uh... is this legal?Yes. Your contract with AT&T was not signed in blood (I hope). Neither Apple nor AT&T can sue you for using a phone, that you've paid for, on a different network. And although you'll have to jailbreak and unlock your iPhone, jailbreaking is not against the law. The Library of Congress recently determined that jailbreaking mobile devices is exempt from the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, and hence is legal.Disclaimer: I'm not a lawyer, so if you're still concerned, go talk to one. OK enough yapping - let's do this thing.
Step 1 - Jailbreak and UnlockJailbreaking allows you to install 3rd party applications and modify your iPhone's software. Unlocking allows you to use your iPhone with carriers other than AT&T. It's necessary to jailbreak your iPhone first, and then unlock it. There are currently a lot of ways to do this, and they all depend on your phone's OS and baseband version. For example, I used redsn0w to jailbreak and ultrasn0w to unlock my iPhone 3G on OS 3.1.2 on baseband 05.11.07. The easiest way to figure out what to do is to use iClarified.com's online wizards:
If your device/OS is not listed in iClarified, visit www.jailbreakmatrix.com for the best software to jailbreak your phone with.
Most jailbreak software requires you to have the device's .ipsw firmware file. You can download any device firmware from http://www.felixbruns.de/iPod/firmware/.
Not to worry - your iPhone will still work with AT&T's service after you jailbreak and unlock.
Step 2 - Signup with T-MobileHead over to t-mobile.com and choose a plan. When prompted to purchase a phone, scroll through their models until you find the SIM card - it should be free. I was unable to complete my purchase online, their web page blew up on the very last step. So I called them up and finished the order with a live rep. The rep had no problems when I mentioned I would be using an unlocked iPhone. The whole process took about 45 minutes due to the rep's "slow system".
Step 3 - Swap the SIM card
- Power off the iPhone. Grab a paper clip, stick it in the hole in the top of the iPhone, and pop out the AT&T SIM card.
- Carefully push the T-Mobile SIM card out of it's "credit card" sized holder. Try not to touch/damage the side with the "grid" contacts on it. Place it in the little plastic iPhone SIM tray.
- Bonus points: if you want to boost your reception a little, attach "a small piece of scotch tape to the outer side of the iPhone's SIM card (the side that does not have metal contacts)". This apparently adds to the pressure of the SIM card's contact enough to increase the phone's reception.
- Slide the SIM card and tray back into the iPhone and power it up.
Step 4 - Transfer your old numberCall up T-Mobile customer service and tell them you're a new customer and you want to transfer your old AT&T number to your phone. When I called, I was transferred twice, and the last rep (who barely spoke english) set up the transfer. The call took about 15 minutes. Within 2 minutes of hanging up, I received 2 text messages from "907" stating: "Welcome to T-Mobile! To change your plan, pay your bill, or check your minutes go to my.t-mobile.com. Your mobile number is XXXXXXXXXX."
Step 5 - Verify Edge networkYou may want to test the Edge data network connectivity and compare to the previous AT&T 3G service. Disable any wifi connection, open the Safari browser app, and try to browse. In my scenario, every time I tried to browse I was redirected to a T-Mobile branded web page (http://10.176.76.164/resources/webpages/error.jsp) that stated: "Error Unknown Your homepage is temporarily unavailable. Please try later." I called T-Mobile again, and they noted that even though I had the unlimited data plan, they hadn't enabled a "Smart Phone Web" option on my account. The tech specified it may take 2 hours to be activated. About 1.5 hours later the Edge connection was working and I was able to browse freely.
Step 6 - Configure MMS (picture messaging)
If you'd like to send/receive picture messages, it's necessary to manually configure your iPhone's MMS settings.
On your iPhone, goto Settings > General > Network > Cellular Data Network. Enter the following T-Mobile MMS settings into the MMS section.
- APN: epc.tmobile.com
- MMSC: mms.msg.eng.t-mobile.com/mms/wapenc
Restart your iPhone and try sending a new message. There should now be a small camera icon next to the text input box that allows you to attach pictures.
Please note that MMS messaging seems to fail if you're connected to the internet via wifi - so disable any active wifi connections before sending a message.
If sending the text message still fails, check out the lengthy MMS discussion on the T-Mobile forum.