First Month with iPhone on Prepaid

About a month ago, hackers broke the iPhone activation system, allowing you to use iPhone on AT&T corporate-liable and prepaid accounts. Many thought the process of paying $10 for 5 MB of data wouldn’t justify the cost of data. So, did we save money? Break even? Pay more?

Read more to find out…

If you haven’t read our first-on-the-web article on iPhone Prepaid usage, we encourage you to read it… it covers the specific process you need to follow in order to use iPhone properly on prepaid service.

It’s also important to note that the process of activating an iPhone on prepaid is not supported by Apple. However, it can be easily reversed (with an iTunes-initatied restore of your iPhone). In addition, the process has now become quite painless. Programs such as iActivator boil the complex process down to a checklist. In addition, newer advanced tools like iFuntastic and iASign allow advanced users to finish the job even faster.

So, what did prepaid do to our iPhone? Not much. First thing we noticed was that YouTube no longer worked (even over Wi-Fi). This is because the iPhone activation process generates a custom Google API key, created just for Apple’s iPhone activation process. This allows your iPhone to tap into the new Google-enhanced version of YouTube, without allowing third-party web sites to do so as well. Because YouTube will eventually be all-H.264-all-the-time, securing a YouTube that runs on open standards is extremely important.

Second, Visual Voicemail is gone. GoPhone Pay-As-You-Go uses a slightly different gateway into the AT&T voicemail system. Tapping voicemail just wound up calling our voicemail number, so we called AT&T and had them turn voicemail off completely on the account. No sense in paying $.25 per voicemail when GrandCentral pushes it to our email for free.

And, in the only really major downside, the constant balance notifications. This is actually not an iPhone issue. It is a chronic problem with GoPhone, even on pick-your-plan (which is supported by iPhone). The balance notifications are AT&T’s response to TracFone, which gives you a constant balance display on the home screen. GoPhone instead updates you of your balance whenever you make a call, or end a data session, via a browser message. This requires you to tap a Dismiss button… a lot… at the end of each call and data session. Not fun, but you probably won’t pay to make them go away (despite AT&T internally recognizing that marketing potential).

These browser notifications would also appear out of nowhere. We tracked that down… turns out they’re part of the Visual Voicemail system. Even when on Wi-Fi, the EDGE network will turn on for a brief moment to sync up Visual Voicemail. This uses a kilobyte or two, so it’s just a minor annoyance.

So, the question I’m sure you’ve been asking… how much did we spend in the first month. Bear in mind, our ideal use of iPhone is purely for data when on prepaid… we assume that you have another phone that you like to use for voice calling. If not, GoPhone prepaid is not for you… go with GoPhone’s pick-your-plan and gain some rollover minutes.

In all, we reloaded AT&T’s MEdia Net Feature Pack five times, totaling $49.95. This wasn’t intentional… we just used iPhone normally and reloaded whenever the Browser Notification said we had used up the full 5 MB (a quick call to 611 automated system can reload it). That happens to be exactly the same as Pick-Your-Plan, so in the first month, it came out to be a wash between the two plans. However, we didn’t get to reap the benefits of rollover minutes, or the 200 airtime minutes included with the plan.

But, bear in mind, we’re heavy data users… and we only used 25 MB of wireless data. Granted, we avoided streaming videos that would run on iPhone… but beyond that, we intentionally did not change our browsing habits (the only thing we did change was setting email to not auto-check, but this was more to save battery life than anything else). This is all thanks to iPhone’s seamless Wi-Fi handoffs that enable usage at-home, at-work, and in so many other places… without denting data.

So, does this mean GoPhone on prepaid is a failure? No, it means you should decide if it’s right for you. Heavy data users will likely wind up making things a wash, or cost more per month… GoPhone pick-your-plan is a better no-contract option. And, if you’re going that route (and plan on keeping iPhone for awhile)… it makes more cost-effective sense to sign a contract and get a free 3G phone while you’re at it.

However, for folks who want an iPDA, putting an iPhone on GoPhone prepaid is a great choice… it enables you to have a fully activated iPhone, and emergency wireless data when you’re on-the-go. It’s much better than just hacking your iPhone to work as a PDA… you never know when you might be willing to pay a lot more to pull up a web site in the middle of nowhere.