Is Using Straight Talk Wireless With Your iPhone a Good Idea?

9/3 Update: Straight Talk is offering the ATT SIM again. See

http://smartphonematters.com/straight-talk-is-offering-att-sim-cards-again/

Recently I have been getting a lot of questions and requests for help from Straight Talk Wireless customers. This makes sense since back in May, I posted my How to Setup Straight Talk Wireless Data and MMS for your iPhone running iOS 6 guide, and people are coming to smartphonematters.com for help.

Using your iPhone with Straight Talk’s T-Mobile network GSM SIM might not be the best choice. Read on to find out why.

As you may or may not know Straight Talk (ST) is what’s known as a Mobile Virtual Network Operate or MVNO for short.  An MVNO doesn’t own their cellular network, they buy service wholesale from AT&T, T-Mobile, and even Verizon and resell it to you at a discount.  In fact, Straight Talk even sells iPhones, but the iPhones they sell run on the Verizon network. If you are reading this, you most likely already have an iPhone and you are trying to use STs Bring Your Own Phone plan .

The idea ST’s Bring Your Own Phone plan is that you have your own smartphone, you buy a SIM kit, activate the SIM, put it in your phone and you are good to go.  But there is a big issue you need to be aware of.  Straight Talk Wireless currently sells SIMs that use the T-Mobile network. Before March, when you bought on of these SIM kits, there were three SIMs in it. Two for the AT&T network, and one for the T-Mobile network. In March, Straight Talk stopped offering the AT&T SIMs.  The general consensus is that AT&T changed the terms for MVNO’s so that they couldn’t offer lower cost unlimited data plans. They stopped selling the ST AT&T SIMs. If you can find a Straight Talk ATT SIM, you can activate it but they are hard to find these days. You can check eBay they sell for between $50 and $100. You are only going to find ST T-Mobile Networks SIMs at retail in your local Walmart,

If you have an iPhone, this can be a problem. Because even though your unlocked iPhone can use the T-Mobile SIM, data will often be slow.  T-Mobile was the last big carrier in the US to support the iPhone. Many current and older iPhones can only use slow 2G data with a ST T-Mobile SIM.  Also, if you live in an area where T-Mobile service is spotty or not well supported, your phone will roam to another network. I have heard from a many readers that live in areas with poor T-Mobile coverage and their phones often roam to some other network and they don’t seem to be able to get data working at all.

Recently, T-Mobile started offering the iPhone and as part of this, they are updating their network to support fast 3G and 4G data on the iPhone. Unfortunately T-Mobile is still upgrading their network market by market. This means in order for you to get 3G or 4G service, you need to be using your iPhone in places where they have updated the network. So for example, one reader in Las Vegas told me he gets 3G service there.

OK, So What are My Options?…

  1. Use the Straight Talk T-Mobile SIM in your iPhone and live with slow 2G data service. (not appealing)
  2. Get a Verizon model iPhone and sign up for Straight Talk using the Verizon network. The iPhones that ST sells are on the Verizon network. You will get Verizon 3G, not 4G LTE speeds with the iPhone 5.
  3. Find an ST AT&T SIM. Pay the premium of $50 to $100  for that SIM. Look on eBay.
  4. Switch to Net10.  Net10 is the sister company to ST. They still offer the AT&T SIM with $50 unlimited talk and text with a 1.5GB data cap per month. Supposedly your data stops working when you hit the limit. I never have.
  5. Switch to AT&T Pay N Go. Its $65 a month for 2GB of data. If you have the iPhone 5, they offer 4G LTE super fast data

And finally, I would add that if you do live in one of the markets where your iPhone works well on the T-Mobile network, it would be worth your time to look at T-Mobile directly. They may have a plan that better fits your needs. For example, if you don’t use a lot of voice they have a $30 mo plan with 100 minutes voice and unlimited data.

I hope this helps.

35 Comments

  1. jody | | Reply

    i couldnt get my mms to work and read where you saud to reset networkn setting so i did and now i have nothing except the apple logo and cant get it to do anything
    please help

    • Bob Thompson | | Reply

      Hi Jody,
      If you reset the network settings and your iPhone never restarted, there was something wrong with your iPhone. Resetting the network settings just forces your iphone to reset a few settings. It was a good sign that your data was working. I was just going to respond to tell you to enter the rest of the APN settings to get MMS working.

      There are three things to try:
      1. Holding down the hold (top) and home (bottom) buttons at the same time for about 8-12 seconds.

      2. Doing the same thing while the phone is being powered

      3. Doing a restore through iTunes: http://support.apple.com/kb/ht1414 If your computer is not picking up the phone, try doing step 1 while it is plugged into the computer with iTunes open

      The first two will not delete anything. The third will if you have not done a back up recently. If you are on iOS 5 or later and have wifi at home, maybe you have been doing iCloud backups each night in which case you’re in luck. Everything will come back to the phone.

      Try one and two and let me know.

      Regards
      Bob

  2. dale b | | Reply

    Thanks for all the information…but I’m still a bit confused. I just purchased a new iPhone 5C A1532 for my youngest daughter today…model numberME495LL/a. Will this work with straight talk? And if so…how? I apologize for my ignorance on the subject.

  3. Alicia | | Reply

    I’ve read some of your guides and am I’m not exactly sure if I know what I’m doing. I currently have straight talk service using one of their samsung touch screen phones. My husband bought me an iPhone 4s that runs on a verizon network. Our local Wal-Mart had the “Bring your Own Phone” Activation kit including 4 total SIM cards and a Network Access code to use with CDMA compatible phones. 2 of the SIM cards are a standard and a micro size SIM card for AT&T and the other 2 are for T-Mobile.

    Obviously the micro sized is what is used for the iPhone, but how do I go about getting started, setting up, transferring service; etc??

    Thank you!

    • Alicia | | Reply

      When I put the AT&T card in, it says SIM Not Valid

    • Bob Thompson | | Reply

      Hi Alicia,
      Your iPhone 4s from the Verizon network is both a CDMA and a GSM phone. Unfortunately, the GSM phone portion is locked. Verizon does not want you putting a GSM sim in the phone. A Verizon iPhone 5 would have worked (but wouldn’t be the best choice)

      You have three options.
      1. Sell this phone and by an ATT or unlocked GSM iPhone
      2. Try to register it on Straight Talk as a CDMA phone.
      3. Get a SIM unlock for the iPhone so you can use a Straight Talk ATT SIM in the phone.

      Option 1 is relatively straight forward. If you can sell it without taking a loss this may be the best option.

      Option 2 may or may not work, I have read conflicting reports about whether ST will even let you register a Verizon iPhone on their network. Some say yes, some say no.

      3. Option 3 is the most technical, but you can get this thing called a GPP SIM unlocker from eBay. It tricks the phone into letting you use a SIM. I don’t have any direct experience with these, but a number of readers of smartphonematters.com use them. You have to get the one that supports your version of iOS. There may be some other unlocking solutions, I am not famliar with.

      You did not mention which network you old phone was using. ST uses the ATT, TMobile, and Verizon networks. You want to make sure you choose an the network that as the best support in the areas you use your phone. For the iPhone, the Straight Talk TMobile network is usually not the best choice.

      You are welcome to ask more questions about any of the three options above.

      Regards,
      Bob

  4. debbie | | Reply

    Hi Bob,

    I’ve been reading a few of your articles this morning, trying to figure out what I can do with my iPhone 5 from Straight Talk, that uses the CDMA network from Verizon.
    I’d like to buy an AT&T sim card to use in my CDMA phone. http://www.shopstraighttalk.com/bpdirect/straighttalk/Start.do?action=view&locale=en&market=GSM4&productFamily=simcards
    First, is this possible since it’s, I believe, dual-mode, and second, once receiving the sim card, do I need to follow any instructions for making the AT&T sim work in my iPhone 5, or will it just work? I guess I want to change my phone from working on the Verizon network to working on the At&T network by inserting the sim card mentioned above.
    Thanks very much for your reply.

    • Bob Thompson | | Reply

      Hi Debbie,
      I have had a number of readers you have done “Bring Your Own Phone” with the Verizon iPhone 5 to Straight Talk and Net10. I would assume that this would work with the Verzion network iPhone 5 from Straight Talk as well, but I have never had a reader comment they have successfully done this.

      It’s a $45 experiment.. or you could try this…
      find a good friend with an iPhone 5 on att and borrow their SIM and see if it works in your iPhone. You can also stop at an ATT store, tell them you are considering Pay and Go and ask if you can try a SIM to see if it works. if it does, tell them you are not ready to switch because you still have a month of service left

      If it does,
      1. You need to get a new Straight Talk ATT SIM, order it from the web site (the new ones support 4G LTE!)
      2. You will need to cut this SIM to the nano SIM size using a scissor or a SIM cutter. They don’t sell nano SIMs. You might be able to order a pre cut SIM from eBay too.
      3. If you need MMS picture messaging you will also need a T-Mobile SIM card to trick your iPhone to let you configure MMS.

      See How to Setup Straight Talk Wireless Data and MMS for your iPhone running iOS 7

      You’ll need to activate the new SIM. You can to this on the Straight Talk web site. You may also be able to transfer your account from the CMDA iPhone to the new SIM. If not, porting your phone number might get weird.

      If you want to try this and need help let me know. I’d like to write a post for the site about this, if you wouldn’t mind me sharing your story. I would only share your first name, and I’ll help you either way.
      Regards
      Bob

    • Bob Thompson | | Reply

      Hi Debbie,
      Update. A reader pointed out to me that your verizon iPhone 5 will only get 4G HSPA+, not 4G LTE on the Straight Talk AT&T network. You Verizon iPhone 5 uses different LTE bands than the AT&T network.

      I apologize for implying you could get LTE in my first reply

  5. Sule | | Reply

    I’m about to pick up an unlocked iPhone 5 currently running on Verizon’s network. My current phone is a budget LG on StraightTalk. I’d like to port the number and use the iPhone 5 with StraightTalk, but am prepared to wait a couple of weeks and go with Net10.

    From this, and lots of other very informative articles on this website, it seems as though I may be able to stay with ST using an AT&T SIM, but have to manually reconfigure some things? Is this correct? I will be making the switch tomorrow, September 19, and hope to post a response on the feasibility. Do you have any parting thoughts before I make the leap?

    • Bob Thompson | | Reply

      Hi,
      I will follow up with you later… But why would you buy an unlocked Verizon iphone 5? Is this new or used? The iPhone 5c and 5s go on sale on Friday.. Unless you are getting a great deal, I’d get a new model or look for a used gsm model iphone.

      Regards,
      Bob

  6. Holliann | | Reply

    I have been reading every article on your website. Looks like it would work great if I didn’t buy the T-Mobile SIM for my iphone 4. I can’t get MMS texts messages. You explained how to swap SIMs but I am using a T-Mobile SIM already. Can you please help?

  7. Annette | | Reply

    I have an iphone 3gs, it is unlocked, at one time it was jailbroke, however I restored it from using itunes, so I don’t know that it is anymore. I switched from att to tmobile for one month, we were not in an area that I could get signal for tmobile so I switched to straight talk recently and I can’t get the data or picture messaging to work. I have tried the steps you have listed and haven’t had any luck. When I use the sim switch method the settings keep reverting back to tmobiles. When I went to install the app from straight talk or unlockit I get an error that says something about already having an apn installed. I checked in the profile and it says none. I used both the straight talk att sim card and the tmobile sim card. Both say it there isn’t one. Each time I try to hit install it says there is. Also when I try the sim swap method it keeps switching the info back to the tmobile settings. Any ideas? Should I hook it up to itunes and restore it? thanks for any help you could give me.

    • Bob Thompson | | Reply

      Hi Annette,
      I had read somewhere that there is a bug that you can have an APN profile installed but it does not show up in the profile settings. You might want to go into the settings, and try a reset network settings. Settings, general, reset.. i think.. That should erase the profile. You’ll lose any wifi passwords stored, so you will need to re enter them. If that doesn’t work, you can reset all the settings.

      If that doesn’t work, do an iphone restore with iTunes. Check any options to reload ios. Backup your data. Try to configure Straight Talk before restoring from the back up.

      Let me know if you need more help.
      Regards,
      Bob

  8. Virginia | | Reply

    Hello, Thank you for all the information you have given on this site. However; I am still unable to get my data to work. I am a bit confused as to why I have to buy another sim just to get data on my Iphone 3gs. I bought this from a friend who had it unlocked when he was done with at&t, then he went back to at&t. I have no clue on how to figure out if my phone is locked or unlocked. This is the first one I have owned. I purchased a sim card from straight talk on their website. I then called and activated it, but still have no data. Do I need to call them to get data activated? Any information you can give would be great. Thank you.

    • Virginia | | Reply

      I forgot to add that I can make calls and send text messages only. I have no internet access nor can I send picture messages.

    • Bob Thompson | | Reply

      Hi Virginia
      You can ask AT&T to unlock the phone. If the contract was up, they will unlock it for free.
      You don’t need to buy another SIM to get data to work. You will need a T-Mobile network SIM to get MMS Picture messaging to work because the Celluar Data Network option in Settingss is hidden when any ATT Network SIM is in the phone (including the Straight Talk ATT SIM).

      Read through my guide and let me know if you have more questions.
      http://smartphonematters.com/guides/how-to-setup-straighttalk-wireless-data-and-mms-for-ios-6/

      Regards
      Bob

  9. jessica | | Reply

    I have an att iphone46.1.3 and bought straight talk sim I put in an apn and I have internet but not mms. plz help to see if i can

  10. Peggy Bradley | | Reply

    I have a iPhone 4S I have goon through all the steps to set up a apn. The only one that I could get to got to the site was unlockit.co.nz and it showes that it is installed but I still do not have Internet if I turn it off. It is making me crazy it was working just fine until strighttalk switch my SIM card because they messed my SIM card up. Stright talk is telling me my phone is lock, but it was not till they switched my card. It AT&T SIM card. Please help me, I am not very tec savvy. Thank you for any help you can give me. Peggy

    • Bob Thompson | | Reply

      I replied to Peggy by email
      Regards
      Bob

  11. nick | | Reply

    Hey Bob,
    I followed your instruction and got data working on my iPhone4S with T-Mobile SIM. This article explains why ST doesnt offer AT&T SIM anymore, thanks.
    I just got my T mobile SIM today and unfortunately reading this article late. I am getting 2G speed right now. I checked T-Mobile coverage where I live and on their site and according to that I should be getting 3G speed. Do you think in this case changing APN settings will help boost speed?

    Thanks,
    Nick

    • Bob Thompson | | Reply

      Hi Nick,
      If you have a 2G or E indicator in your status bar, no switching APNs isn’t going to help. If you have a 3G or 4G indicator and are using an app like speed test to test your speed you could try the other apns. Most people report only one APN works for them.

      Unfortunately coverage maps don’t always reflect your actual experience and are highly localized. I used to have T-Mobile and noticed that when I was driving around the metro area, my service would change from 2G (E), to 3G , to none many times depending on the location.

      If I were you I’d follow one of the options from the article and get on the AT&T network.

      Regards
      Bob

  12. karen foley | | Reply

    I have a iphone 3gs with straight talk I have the original sim card from 1 year ago the sold on there website I updated iTunes to 6.1.3 and I did a few things you said and I just don’t get mms to work can u help me

  13. Daniel | | Reply

    Bob, I am wanting to buy an older iphone 3g or 3gs off ebay for use with BYOP Smart talk plan. Whatdo I need to know in order todo this,I really want to be able to mms text and phone usage not so much data usage but more apps.

  14. Carlos G | | Reply

    Hi Bob,

    Thanks for all your posting. They have been helping me to understand more about APN and cellphones set up. I have a problem with my iphone 4 (5.1.1 9B208). It is with ST and my data has been suspended because, they said I have used too much data. It has been almost two years since I use ST and never have an issue before, but I dont know how to overcome this problem. I really need cellular data on my phone. What do you recomend in this case?. Should I change any APN settings? Should I update my iPhone to iO 6.1.3? How can I avoid my service beeing suspended every month ?
    Thanks a lot for you help,

  15. antonio jones | | Reply

    Hello I have an iphone 4s on st without being able to send pics video etc to non iphone users. I have att sim from st ibought from st late last year. I used unlockit to get apn settings but no pics n I haven’t updated to 6.1.3 due to fear of loosing all data internet that I have. I get 3g speed here fine and the screen says HOME

    Just want to send pics n video of my sons bball games from iphone than via email. Thx for any help.

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