OT: using an iPhone with Tracfone service

Here’s a tech hack that might be useful: how to use an iPhone with Tracfone service. It’s a small thing, but it made me inordinately happy when it worked. Disclaimer: your mileage may vary, so purchase a returnable phone if you try this. As I’ve written about before, I’m a big fan of Tracfone. Even using my Android Tracfone as my primary work phone, I spend under $200 a year for service (voice, data, and texts). That’s less than half the cost of major carriers’ prepaid plans, which run about $40 a month plus the phone. Tracfone’s service is also quite reliable with good coverage and call quality.

This all started because Android phones have trouble receiving group texts from iPhones. My teenage daughter primarily communicates with her friends by texting. Essentially all of her friends have iPhones, and she chronically had issues with group texts coming through as multimedia messages. Those either take forever to download, or fail completely. I experience this problem with my Android phone too, but I also don’t receive that many group texts.

I don’t have an issue with my daughter having an iPhone. She’s very responsible and kind of a technology hater (often telling *me* to put my phone away). But I do have an issue with paying “real” iPhone prices for a phone that could easily be lost or stolen at school, and that she almost never talks on. I thought…there has to be a way…and there is, or at least it worked this time!

Here’s what I did:

  • Purchased a refurbished iPhone 4S on eBay from Upward Mobile (not an affiliate link) for $70. Made sure it was returnable, just in case. The iPhone I bought was identified as “AT&T” on the listing, but did not have a carrier identified when I turned it on. Cosmetically, it looks new, and came with a nice case.
  • Received the phone. Note that when I entered its IMEI code into Tracfone’s bring your own phone verification page, the result was “not compatible.” But I figured, we have the phone, why not at least try it.
  • Purchased a Tracfone Smartphone Activation Kit for $30. Our local grocery store carries them, but you can also order them online. The kit contains three SIM cards of various sizes, and an initial prepaid plan for the phone.
  • Followed the instructions in the kit, which mostly involved inserting the correct SIM card, then registering it on Tracfone’s website. I already have a Tracfone account for my own phone, so you would have to create an account if you don’t have one already.
  • Followed Tracfone’s activation process for porting my daughter’s existing number to the new phone. This is pretty simple: just input the existing number and the SIM card code on their website.
  • Waited. The process is not instant. By the next day, the phone was getting service but couldn’t make or receive calls. For whatever reason, I then had to call Tracfone customer service and have them manually activate something. They didn’t really specify the issue, just said: “we have to manually activate this.” But within 24 hours, the iPhone was working like a regular iPhone. In our case, my daughter had about 4,000 existing minutes from her old phone, which all carried over. So our total cost was $100 and we won’t need to add minutes for at least a year.
  • All systems go. The phone has been active for about a week, and so far everything works as it should. Score one for a tech hack that actually works, if you don’t need the newest iPhone or hours of talk time.
4 Responses to “OT: using an iPhone with Tracfone service”
  1. Rachael Koev December 12, 2016
    • Corinne McKay December 12, 2016
  2. Ed December 12, 2016
    • Corinne McKay December 12, 2016

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