Why Does My iPhone Need Cellular Data with Tracfone for Text and Picture Messages

A reader Wayne commented…

The Only way I got to work was to leave your data turned on. Defeats the purpose of using Tracfone for me. I have returned the phone to Tracfone. I spent several hours on the phone with three separate Tracfone reps no help. Now using my inexpensive LG and Samsung phones. No problem. Works great and data is turned off.

You are correct. MMS Service requires cellular data. The difference is that tracfone and other prepaid services will deduct that data from your data balance. Your testing may show differently, but it is my understanding that all MMS requires data, and your phone is using data to send it even if data is turned off. In addition to testing this with data off, have you confirmed that it’s not impacting your data balance? You’d probably need to send a few photos to see your tracfone balance change, the on phone usage tracker might show otherwise.

But I would like to understand why this is such a deal breaker for you. First, with iPhone to iPhone messages your phone would use only data to deliver messages to other iPhones using iMessage.(blue bubble), it doesn’t use any text messages. iPhone to Android text message use Text messages (SMS), and iPhone to Android picture messages and group text use both a text message(SMS) and data to deliver the multi-media message. Tracfone data costs $10 for 1GB. Text messages are a half cent ($5 for 1000).

Does really make an impact on your overall costs or is your objection more on principle? I generally want to understand your perspective.

It’s my experience with iPhone you want to leave data turned on so that you can use iMessage. The data controls on iPhone are granular enough that you can prevent other apps from using cellular data.
I’ve have several friends and family members set up this way, no one has reported Messages using up a meaningful amount of data. I’ve also had readers here express a similar concern when switching from Android to iPhone using tracfone. I shared the same advice, no one has ever returned to report that Messages was using an unreasonable amount of data.


  1. Ben | | Reply

    I messaged Tracfone customer service on chat and they said that data is only used for surfing the internet when on Tracfone service. And I can have data off. I’m also saying that I’d like to switch from Samsung galaxy Luna to iPhone SE 2nd gen and would like to know if it’s worth doing so when on Tracfone service. (And switch the same number to the iPhone).

    • Bob Thompson | | Reply

      The iPhone uses your internet connection for iMessage, messages exchanged with other iPhone users. It requires cellular data. The phone will work with data off, iMessage and MMS pictures and group texts will not. occasionally add 1 GB of data to keep messages running. You can prevent other apps from using cellular data in settings. The new iPhone SE is a great phone, a huge value. Whether or not you prefer iPhone to Samsung (Android) is a personal preference.

      You can transfer your number and balance to a new iPhone SE 2020. You need to buy a SIM and choose which towers you want to use. If your old phone supports triple minutes or the $50 1 year of service days option, consider loading up before you transfer your service.

      If you are using one of the monthly smartphone plans, consider switching to AT&T Prepaid, Cricket, or Mint Mobile. You’ll get unlimited talk and text with 2GB or 3GB of data per month for $15. A much better value. See the most recent videos on my YouTube channel.

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