Will You Be Able To Take Your Unlimited Data Plan With You If You Upgrade To iPhone 5?

Yesterday, Apple went through its occasional ritual of taking an hour to go over every minute detail of its new phone. But what wasn’t mentioned in that overlong introduction to the iPhone 5 was what it means for the folks who still have unlimited data plans from back in the day.

Back in May, Verizon Wireless seemed to make it clear that anyone wishing to cash in on an upgrade would either need to switch to a non-unlimited data plan or pay full retail price for their phone. We’re assuming this applies to the iPhone 5 too, though we’ve reached out to VZW for confirmation.

As for AT&T, the president & CEO, AT&T Mobility confirmed in a statement yesterday that, “We offer customers the flexibility to keep the iPhone data plans they already have or choose any of our individual or new Mobile Share plans.” We’ve confirmed with the Death Star that this includes grandfathered unlimited plans.

For those of you who are interested in keeping your unlimited plan on AT&T or Verizon, Gizmodo recommends that you do not pre-order online. What? Well, they say that both companies are notorious for having “opaque online tools for carrying over grandfathered plans,” and you could accidentally give up your plan. Once it’s gone, it’s pretty much gone, even if it was an accident. Gizmodo talked to some AT&T reps who recommended waiting until a few weeks after the iPhone 5 comes out (to give the salespeople time to figure out the system).  (Anyone out there with more information on this? Tell us at tips@consumerist.com.)

Sprint customers need not ask the question, as the company has yet to give any indication of backing down on offering unlimited data to customers. Who knows how long that will continue once it has its LTE network up and running in the next year, but that’s not an issue for now.

In other iPhone 5 news, people who want the phone but don’t want to be locked into a contract will be able to get a prepaid device via Cricket, which was the first U.S. company to offer a prepaid iPhone. Prices are not yet announced, but it’s expected that, since the iPhone 5 is going for the same price as the 4S, Cricket will likely keeps its prices the same when the 5 becomes available.


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  1. DouglasQuaid says:

    Its very simple. Upgrade an eligible line (that already has a tiered plan) and then do a device swap to your line with the unlimited data. I know this isn’t the case with all accounts but I have 5 lines and i’m the only one with unlimited data (and need it for that matter).

    • alana0j says:

      I don’t know a ton about iPhones (Droid fan!), but they’re not super easy to just “swap out” are they? From what I’ve seen from a few friends, you have to activate it through iTunes. I guess what I’m getting at is upon trying to activate the new iPhone on the line with unlimited data, would the carrier have it in place to where you’re forced to choose a new data plan to go with it?

      • hicks says:

        The iTunes requirement for activation was dropped in iOS 5 last year: http://www.addictivetips.com/mobile/new-ota-updates-and-activation-feature-in-ios-5-no-pc-required/

        It’s been a while since I’ve activated my phone, I think it’s more setting up your iTunes account and stuff than any carrier options, those are set when you buy the device itself.

      • wenhaver says:

        It depends on your carrier/phone type. On AT&T, you pop out your SIM card, slap it in the new iPhone, and sync your phone to get your apps/data onto the new phone. iTunes doesn’t really come into play if you’re upgrading from a previous iPhone, because it’ll work as soon as you slap the SIM card in – you just won’t have your apps and things. Upgrading from the 3GS to the 4 took all of 10 minutes, and that’s only because I had a bunch of data that I wanted to weed out before I did the sync. AT&T certainly knows what kind of phone my SIM card is in without me ever specifically telling them, so in theory they could put a “choose another plan” roadblock into play. I can’t think of a user experience that wouldn’t be really awkward tho, because there isn’t really an activation per se after you swap SIMs.

        • alana0j says:

          Ok that was another question I had. I also have AT&T so I get that you can swap out the sim with another phone. I just vaguely recalled it not being so simple on the original iPhone. But as you said, AT&T does monitor what device your sim card is put into. They’d do a sweep and see the iPhone 5 on the unlimited data plan, so I wonder if they’d start doing the text messaging crap again letting you know they’re switching your data plan?

          • Yville says:

            Actually you wont be able to do this. The new iphone comes with a nano-sim card. It’s even smaller than the iphone 4 and iphone 4s sim cards. Therefore you wont be able to swap them. I’m not sure if there even is another phone that has the nano-sim card. If there is you can swap it with that phone.

            Your best bet is calling up your provider. Get a vacation day ready for that call!

            • JonBoy470 says:

              When the iPhone 4 went to the micro-SIM it was a matter of time before 3rd party vendors came out with “SIM cutters” to shoe-horn existing SIM’s into the new phone. Just a matter of time before “Nano-SIM cutters” arrive as well…

    • Extended-Warranty says:

      Maybe I’m missing it, but where’s the benefit? I would be purchasing another line to keep unlimited data?

      • Ophelia says:

        Well, if you already have a second line without unlimited data, then there is no additional cost (besides the normal subsidized phone price.) – that line just wont be eligible for another upgrade anytime soon, so hopefully they’re ok with what they have. But if you need to add another line… doing so (assuming you have a dumbphone to activate on the line) is still cheaper than buying the phone outright, or cancelling the line (and paying the etf).

        For verizon, an extra line is $10/month – or $240 over the full 2 year contract. $240+$200 (subsidized cost) = $440, which is cheaper than the $650 it would cost to buy it outright. Even cancelling the line right away ($350+$200 upgrade) is $100 less than buying it outright.

  2. and_another_thing says:

    Too bad US Cellular doesn’t match the offerings of Virgin Mobile.

    • luxosaucer13 says:

      US Cellular has the coverage, data speeds and customer service that Virgin doesn’t. Coverage, data speeds and customer service matter more to my company than price. Without coverage, your $35/month plan is useless. Without customer service, you’re stuck in an endless phone tree (God help you if you have a real phone problem) instead of working face-to-face with an actual person. If your data speeds are barely above dial-up, what’s the point of having unlimited data?

      We’ve (my company) have found, through experience, that you get what you pay for. You want a cheap plan? It’ll cost you coverage, service quality and customer service. Those are trade-offs that we’re not willing to make.

      For the record, I used Virgin (and Boost)………for 1 month each and decided the hassles weren’t worth the low price. I sold the phones on eBay, so it wasn’t a total loss.

  3. MutantMonkey says:


  4. jeepguy57 says:

    My wife and I have separate plans (her on VZW, me on AT&T) due to our unlimited plans. But since we don’t hit a gig total between the two of us – not once in the past year – we’re switching to a shared data plan on Verizon. Going to go with 2gb just to be safe but that will be ample for our needs. I’m a heavy user but I have access to wi-fi in so many places.

    • donjumpsuit says:

      I would reconsider combining accounts. If your wife moves to a new iPhone on Verizon, her plan will automatically drop the unlimited status, unless you pay the full price for the iPhone. On ATT you will be able to move the unlimited plan over to the new iPhone if you keep all the same things in place.

      Here is why you should reconsider. LTE is going to significantly increase the potential to download more data. Sometimes the phone sends and reciveds data without you instructing it too, sometimes it will communicate back and forth with the cloud (icloud or dropbox) and these things may increase with more data. Sometimes when you go to view the web, a page with pictures, or a movie, the old iPhone would not be able to download it as fast as your interest in viewing everything. With LTE now, a misclick, or brief visit somewhere may instantly be able to download the entire content on a page or the entire video without buffering, which will make your data creep up.

      I would let the dust settle before dropping something you could have dropped a long time ago, but continue to pay extra money for up until now, to not see the benefits of it in this context.

      • jeepguy57 says:

        Fair point about LTE, but AT&T is not an option for us. The coverage is awful where I work – and I can’t get calls in my office and its a pain. We would save $40/month by combining. Granted, giving up our unlimited plans is uneasy, but over the past twelve months, I have never exceeded 800mb and my wife has never gone over 300. I can’t imagine LTE will double our usage but it does give me something to think about.

    • rooben says:

      We have an All-Verizon plan: 2 smartphones (one on unlimited data, one with the 2 gig plan), and 2 dumb-phones (in-laws, don’t use anything except voice). We pay about $180.

      If we upgraded to iPhone 5 (the unlimited one qualifies, as well as the 2 dumb phones), and took the 1gig plan (smallest), we’d be at $190 before taxes. Gotta love getting less (we never get near our 2k minutes or 500 texts) and paying more.

      • PhiTauBill says:

        I’m in the same boat (except that my wife is currently unlimited on AT&T family plan and out-of-contract), and I am about to switch over both my wife and I to a VZW share plan. The $30 they want to charge for each dumb phone in the share plan equation is idiotic… but in the case of my in-laws (also out-of-contract on our old AT&T family plan), we are just going to put them on an AT&T pay-as-you-go plan becuase they hardly use the dumb phones that they have. The nice thing about the VZW plan is the ability to add tablets for $10 a device… the question I have to answer is, however, will I still be able to tether?

  5. do-it-myself says:

    Haha…Oh Sprint. Once (if ever) they get to producing quality data speeds in many more areas, that “unlimited” will disappear SO fast! It’s nice and all that they are trying to copycat part of the industry with 3.99 G (4G LTE, as 4G is really more like 3.5)….but their regular 4G is SEVERELY lacking. I actually saw it once in Orlando. That was about it.

  6. coloradogray says:

    Just get an unlocked one a go to t-mobile.