Change your iPhone carrier to T-Mobile

iPhone on T-Mobile

iPhone on T-Mobile

Please note: a reliable jailbreak for the iPhone 4 is not yet available, so this article currently applies only to the iPhone 3G/3GS.A lot of folks out there are frustrated with AT&T's iPhone service. Its got a reputation for sucking. Recently detailed in Wired magazine, Apple has seriously considering ending its exclusive contract with the telecommunications giant. Apparently, AT&T's network hasn't been able to handle the new load of iPhone users, and upgrades to it's network aren't happening fast enough. As an iPhone user, I never really experienced any problems with AT&T's service - until I moved to my new home. For some reason, my iPhone's reception dropped from 5 bars to none whenever I was inside or within 10 feet of my house. Other cell phones got great reception there - I can only presume that something nearby was causing interference on AT&T's operating frequencies. After the 1000th dropped call and another $85 bill, it was time to dump AT&T.

Comparing AT&T to T-Mobile

The 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/month500 minutes/month
5000 Night/Weekend minutes/monthUnlimited Night/Weekend minutes/month
minutes rolloverminutes don't rollover
200 texts/monthunlimited texts/month
2 year contract with $175 Early Termination FreeNo contract, month to month
Unlimited dataUnlimited data
Relatively fast 3G network3G network not available for iPhone, slower Edge network only
Visual voicemailNo visual voicemail
Shitty reception in my new homeExcellent reception in my new home
Feeling forced into a contract just for an iPhoneFeeling 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.
  • Newegg.com:
  • 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 *
*Note: this does not include the pro-rated amount of your plan for X number of days before you cancel.

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 Unlock

Jailbreaking 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-Mobile

Head 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

The SIM card will take about a week and a half to arrive unless you ordered expedited shipping. When you get it, do this:
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Slide the SIM card and tray back into the iPhone and power it up.
sim

sim

sim

With any luck, you should see "T-Mobile" displayed as the carrier in the upper-left corner of your phone. Try a few test calls, text messages, etc. You can view your new phone number by dialing #686#.

Step 4 - Transfer your old number

Call 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 network

You 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.

mms

mms

Step 7 - Cancel AT&T service

Once you've verified everything's working, drop that AT&T plan like it's hot. You'll have to call them up to do so, and of course, the rep will try to talk you into keeping your AT&T account. Be assertive and continue to repeat that you just want to cancel your account. Don't provide any reasons if you don't want to. If you're getting pegged with an "Early Termination Fee", it will show up on your final bill. I had signed up a year ago when the fee was only $175, so my termination fee was $115 = ($175 - (12 months x $5)).

Optional final step - Visual Voicemail

T-Mobile's visual voicemail doesn't yet work with the iPhone. You'll still get notifications and Phone app's "Voicemail" button will dial to your T-Mobile voicemail. If you really want visual voicemail, as well as a bunch of other voicemail features, try out the YouMail app. Their service is free and offers voice-to-text transcriptions of your voicemails. The app will automatically switch your voicemail over to their service, and you can cancel anytime.

Booyah, Grandma. Booyah.

Congrats - you're officially a jailbreaking, phone unlocking, freedom loving, renegade iPhone ninja. If William Wallace was here, he'd tell you: "They may take our money, but they will never take OUR FREEDOM!"

Comments

  1. Awesome - thanks for the thorough write-up!

  2. Rebirth of soul

    very nice, thank you for this guide and info. hopefully in the incoming month i will do the same as you :D

  3. ctneyejo

    Is there a voice navigation app that will work? I tried mapquest but it turns off when you lose service. I am assuming it is not a true gps?

  4. Camilo

    Hello! What about FaceTime? Were you able to activate that on T-Mobile? I used another MMS configuration and it always works. Thanks

  5. @Camilo as noted at the top of this page, this post only currently applies to the iPhone 3G/3GS. What MMS configuration do you use?

  6. Irvin

    hey, i jail broke my iPhone with BlackRa1n and used sn0w to unlock its carrier...my questions are do i have to swap out the At&t sim card with the T-mobile one before i change the MMS and Data networks? because i tried going to settings and all that and the APN thing doesnt show up, just the VPN... do you reccomend i jailbreak it and unlock it like you said so above for it to work for sure? so could you please e-mail me? it'd be alot faster. if no e-mail, i'll look on here every chance i get. thanks. and way to stick it to At&t and those rediculous prices.

  7. @Irvin - yeah definitely wait until you get your T-Mobile SIM before you start changing your MMS/Data settings. Actually I'm pretty sure you'll have to put in your T-Mobile SIM card before the iPhone's OS will even allow you to change that stuff. And if you're already jailbroken and unlocked with ultrasn0w, you're good to go - no need to re-do it.

  8. Irvin

    thanks, thats a big worry lifted off my shoulders. i thought something was wrong with my iPhone...oh and by any chance do you know if i NEED a credit card to sign up for the even more plus plan? i have a job, a bank account and debit card..but do i really NEED a credit card?

  9. Tatyanna

    Thankyou!!!!!
    Finally i can use the iphone im going to get..&my mom&dad wont have to worry on changing the plans:)

  10. I live in canada and am in the US a few days per week, If I unlock my phone as you describe I should be able to sign up with a US carrier? I want to be able to switch from Canadain sim card to US sim card when ever I cross the border will I be able to do this?

  11. [...] iPhone. It lists price comparisons as well what you need to get this project done. You can view it here. I’ll list the same steps found in the post and list my own experiences with them. I’ll [...]

  12. geslia

    my phone is unlocked and jail broke but for some reason my service will not connect with tmobile...help if you can

  13. ryan

    i just bought my sim for my iphone 3gs i did have at&t but got sick of their pro charging. I bought it and prepaid service about 2 hours ago and the guy at the store said it will take 2 hours and not able to call yet????help

  14. Steve Miller

    My uncle passed away about 2months ago and left an iphone4 (4.3.5) which was activated last April. It seems ATT stopped the service because no one paid his monthly ATT bill due to no family around him. I was wondering If I could use his iPhone using TMobile?

  15. Deathlives

    This is the most accurate, comprehensive, and informative page I've found on the subject. I wish I found it a month ago. But thanks anyway and keep up the cause!!

  16. Treyco

    I was wondering if you or anybody has been able to unlock iphone 4 on ios 5.0.1 with firmware 04.11.08 yet? i bought it last night an didnt realize i needed a micro sim card an couldnt unlock due to the new software

  17. A

    I have just come over to the US from Europe and have a brand new iphone 4s however I cannot get it to work and neither can any major network. What can I do to get it to work with a good plan for as little as possible?

  18. Brooke

    Okay, what about the whole data plan thing. Is unlimited? Cause I thought sprint was the only unlimited data plan? Please reply (: I need to know this asap.

  19. I'm with geslia. This is the tutorial if you're not being cock blocked by apple. There ARE no APN settings, and I can't see my IP to change that. How do we fix that?

  20. DarkNamelessOne

    Dude. You are a lifesaver. I was having issues getting photos thru text messages on my jailbroken 3G iPhone and this worked fabulously well. Thanks a bunch.

    DNO

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