Why Are Prepaid iPhones so Complicated?

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A reader, Barb, commented.

Hi Bob,
I have a iphone 4 on page plus now. I didn’t have to do anything fancy to set it up. Except I understand I can’t use higher than 4S on page plus right now. I was looking at another discount service for an iphone 5 … so I read your directions.
Your how to is great. I’m curious about the why. WHY is this so complicated? I didn’t have to do any of this with my current phone and I still have a cheap plan. What’s the deal with using an iphone on these other services that’s different than what I have now?
Thanks,
Barb

Barb,
That is a good question. There are a number of options for prepaid iPhones. Straight Talk, Net 10, Virgin Mobile, Cricket, even T-Mobile. With the exception of T-Mobile, most of these iPhones run on the Verizon or Sprint network.  You can buy, activate, set up and use a prepaid iPhone from one of these companies and it isn’t complicated.  If you have a problem and need for support from your carrier or the dealer who sold you the phone that experience will vary on a case-by-case basis.

You left your comment on my How to Set up Net10 Web, Data, and MMS for Your iPhone Running iOS 7  That guide is for a specific case, mainly customers who want to bring their own unlocked or AT&T iPhones to Net10. These customers need to configure data & MMS settings themselves. Setting up data is relatively easy, but MMS isn’t. In fact, Net10 doesn’t guarantee that MMS will work on your BYOP iPhone.

All the information here also applies to Straight Talk wireless as Net10 and Straight Talk are both owned by the same parent company.

Net10 will sell you a SIM card that either uses the T-Mobile or AT&T network. You buy the SIM card, activate it, put the SIM in your phone and configure it. When you put that Net10 AT&T SIM into your AT&T iPhone running iOS 6 or iOS 7, your iPhone automatically programs itself with the settings for the AT&T network. The problem is that even though Net10 uses the AT&T network, their settings for data and MMS are different. OK, big deal, you just go change the settings..wrong!. Apple and AT&T added a feature to the iOS to allow AT&T to hide those Cellular Data Network settings. The reason being that if your using the AT&T network, the phone set them up for you and there is no need for you to even know about them or accidentally change them. So while this is great for ATT customers, it isn’t so good for Net10 customers.

So there are three companies involved Net10, AT&T, and Apple. Its both a business and technical issue. I am sure Net10 would love to fix the  problem. The fix would be for the iPhone to automatically program the correct Net10 settings, or at least not hide the Cellular Data Network settings so the user could go enter them directly.  AT&T is huge Apple customer so I am sure Apple wants to make the AT&T experience best.  Net10 is an AT&T customer, they are buying airtime on the AT&T network in bulk and reselling it. But they are also competitors, and AT&T can’t be happy about their customers leaving for Net10 when after the customers contract is up and the iPhone is subsidy is paid off.

If you have a Verizon iPhone you may also be able to move it to Net10. They offer BYOP for Verizon network phones using the Verizon network as well. I have never moved Verizon iPhone to Net10, some people claim you can some people claim they won’t let you. These Verizon’s iPhones have a Electronic Serial Number or ESN, and I think Verizon has to give the OK for the phone to be reassigned to the prepaid network.

I am not familar with Page Plus. It looks like they use the Verizon network. Did you buy your iPhone from them or do a BYOP?

I hope I was able to clarify the issue. If you are looking to move to an iPhone 5 on a prepaid service. I would be happy to discuss this with you further.

Regards

Bob

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