Is a Free iPhone Really Free?
September 16, 2010 3:11 PM   Subscribe

I have been offered a used iPhone by a friend who is upgrading. Can I still use its Wi-Fi without getting a data plan?

I can't afford a data plan nor an iPod Touch, but I would really love a small, portable internet capable device. Is this possible naturally? If not, what sort of jailbreaking/haxx0ring will I need to do to make it work?

This isn't a "at any costs" sort of thing - if it is going to be too much of a pain in the ass I'll let him pass it on to someone else.
posted by charred husk to Computers & Internet (22 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Yes, you can use the phones WiFi capabilities for free (assuming of course you are within range of a WiFi signal).
posted by jmnugent at 3:16 PM on September 16, 2010

Yes. My wife does this.
posted by Mars Saxman at 3:17 PM on September 16, 2010

I have done just this (when I upgraded my own iPhone, I used my old one which was not attached to a data plan); I used my old one around the house and as an iPod when my boyfriend needed to borrow my phone.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 3:18 PM on September 16, 2010

Yes, just take out the sim card to remove annoying messages.
posted by Brent Parker at 3:20 PM on September 16, 2010

AT&T regularly pings their network and will automatically add on the data plan for any smartphone they find on their network not currently registered and paying the fee. Even if you NEVER use data.

Considerate of them, don't you think?

I'm pretty sure all mobile providers now do this. let's see how other folks weigh in, but I'm pretty sure (from experience) the answer is "No."

The good news is AT&T has a data plan that only costs $15 per month. I'm sure other companies are even more competitive. You don't say who your carrier is.

Good luck. Take the phone. Try not to drop it:)
posted by jbenben at 3:22 PM on September 16, 2010

Best answer: No phone plan needed. At most, you will need a few minutes of your time.

You should be able to just remove the SIM card. Failing that, there are a number of free jailbreaking options. The one you pick will depend on the model of iPhone and the version of iOS running on it, as well as the platform you are running on your computer.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 3:23 PM on September 16, 2010

Oops. I thought you were going to use it as a phone, but use the wifi to avoid a data plan.

Yes. Without a sim chip installed, an iPhone is basically an iPod Touch.

Carry on....
posted by jbenben at 3:29 PM on September 16, 2010

Best answer: Yep, you're going to have to jailbreak it, but it works fine. I'm using one the same way.

When I did it, you still had to follow some on-screen prompts to turn it on and off at specific times, but I believe that there are now some online options where you just go to a site and it'll do all the heavy lifting for you. (disclosure: I never used this particular site, so use at your own risk, etc...)
posted by quin at 3:39 PM on September 16, 2010

In addition to using it as an ersatz iPod Touch, if you unlock and jailbreak it, you can install a SIM from either AT&T or T-Mobile (the 2 US GSM networks) and use it as a regular cellphone. But I haven't tried this, so you may want to do some research on jbenben's warning if you're not using a prepaid plan.
posted by Fin Azvandi at 3:55 PM on September 16, 2010

jbenben: "I'm pretty sure all mobile providers now do this."

I have a Nokia N900 smartphone on T-Mobile that isn't being charged for a dataplan. Do you have a citation for AT-T adding charges like that?
posted by pwnguin at 3:58 PM on September 16, 2010

Best answer: The reason people are saying you would have to jailbreak it is because when your friend resets it to factory defaults and you go to set it up on your own computer in iTunes, you won't be able to "activate" it because the SIM card would not have service. You might be able to get away without jailbreaking if your friend doesn't wipe the phone first.

Jailbreaking is pretty easy though. I did it with my old iPhone 3G after upgrading to use it with wifi like you plan to. You want to use something like PwnageTool because it has an option to activate the phone. If you jailbreak with some of the other tools you will get bugged with an "trying to activate" message all the time.

The hardest part of jailbreaking is trying to understand all of the options out there. The actual process is no big deal.
posted by cabingirl at 4:01 PM on September 16, 2010

I started using a 3GS with my current AT&T sim chip in October 2009.

I kept the phone on "airplane mode" a lot. Never used data. Eventually (in 2010) AT&T caught me. Twice. Both times I got a handy little text saying, "We know you're using an iPhone and we've added a data plan to your existing contract. Thanks for using AT&T!"

Both times I contacted the AT&T "retention dept" (this is the phone tree prompt that says "If you want to talk to someone about closing your account...")

Retention departments are MAGIC. They made my fees disappear because the data/wifi on my phone is broken, but I was warned both times the company regularly searches the networks for smartphones and automatically adds the fees when detected.

The retention dept did something special for me the third time I got caught (I don't know what exactly) so my AT&T contract now reflects I have an iPhone AND I don't pay data. I reckon this isn't usual, but there are extenuating circumstances (long-term customer, multiple lines, notorious lack of signal in my neighborhood) so I pushed for accommodation.

pwnguin, you say T-mobile won't put me through the BS? Good to know!

I'd like to hear from Verizon customers, because I genuinely thought it was industry policy with smartphone users. Maybe iPhones are exempt for this with other mobile carriers because they're only officially licensed for use via AT&T??

Anyway. That's my story.
posted by jbenben at 4:34 PM on September 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

Yup. My old 3G now makes a great internet radio, now that I have an iPhone 4. You can even plug it into iTunes and upgrade the iOS, just like before. Just pop out the SIM card, if it's still in there.
posted by cgg at 5:22 PM on September 16, 2010

Before the friend upgrades his phone, have him/her restore the phone and then reactivate it in iTunes with the phone number, but WITHOUT adding anything like music, contacts, etc to it. Then you're free to take the SIM card out and use it with wifi at your leisure, but if you ever want to restore it (to, say, fix software snafus and the like) you're going to be up a creek because you can't activate it without a phone number.

This is of course assuming that your friend would like to wipe all of his/her info off the phone first before handing it over to you. Restoring's always good anyway because it updates the software and gets rid of the sort of crap that accumulates over time in an iPhone anyway.

Or you can jailbreak it--I only know the company line since that's all I was trained for when I was tech support. (note here that I do not support one option over the other)
posted by LokiBear at 5:59 PM on September 16, 2010

Try reading Using an iPhone without a wireless service plan.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 6:22 PM on September 16, 2010

And by following the steps in that article, you'll basically transfer your iPhone into an iPod Touch.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 6:51 PM on September 16, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks, everyone. From the sounds of it I will probably need to jailbreak the device since I won't have a service to activate the SIM card with (my actual phone is a Verizon flip-phone). The iPhone will be given to me completely wiped so I won't be able to use previous activations, either.
posted by charred husk at 8:58 PM on September 16, 2010

This iPhone which is now to be set up as an iPod touch -- can Google voice be used ie if I've an internet connection can I use the phone to call out and/or receive calls?
posted by dancestoblue at 1:36 AM on September 17, 2010

Put an AT&T pay-as-you-go sim in, it will activate fine. You don't need to buy minutes or time.

Use APN Changer (it looks different on your iPhone) to change the data settings (APN) to not use the cellular network.

No jailbreaking or unlocking required.
posted by blue_beetle at 5:47 AM on September 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

Also, Google Voice is not a VOIP product. It redirects regular phone calls, so it can't be used without a phone plan. Use Skype or Fring instead for that.
posted by blue_beetle at 5:48 AM on September 17, 2010

blue_beetle: "Also, Google Voice is not a VOIP product."

That line is blurring. They rolled out integration to where you can now direct Google voice calls to GTalk.
posted by pwnguin at 12:37 PM on September 17, 2010

Response by poster: I received the iPhone and it was wiped. I put it into airplane mode and it works like a very expensive iPod Touch, even syncing with my iTunes. There was nothing to worry about after all!
posted by charred husk at 5:45 AM on October 18, 2010

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