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(Re)Activating T-Mobile Data for Life on a Replaced iPad

Over the last week I had a difficult time reactivating an iPad with T-Mobile’s Free Data for Life.  The iPad was originally set up with Free Data for Life around February, and it worked for the infrequent occasions I needed cellular data.  In order to not accidentally use the data, I turned off cellular data when I wasn’t actively and intentionally using cellular data. About five months ago the iPad was damaged and replaced under AppleCare+ and the T-Mobile SIM was transferred to the replacement iPad.

A week ago I enabled cellular data on the iPad and was unable to access the Internet, repeatedly being redirected to a page where I could purchase additional data.  It turns out that I hadn’t enabled cellular data since the iPad was replaced–not surprising the data plan wasn’t working since the replacement iPad was a different device than originally registered for the data.  However when I contacted T-Mobile support it didn’t seem they knew what to do when confronted with a replacement iPad.  T-Mobile support had me try at least the following, while repeatedly assuring me the account was ok:

  • Wait a few days for the IMEI to “update in the system”
  • Verify there was a T-Mobile signal
  • Verify there was no T-Mobile outage in the area
  • Reseat the SIM card
  • Verify the APN settings
  • Reset network settings
  • Enable Data Roaming
  • Reset the iPad back to factory settings (I refused to do this)
  • Attempt to re-register through
  • Have T-Mobile support change the IMEI on file to match the replacement iPad’s IMEI
  • Reset Subscriber Services
  • Purchase a replacement SIM card and tried to self activate service (T-Mobile Twitter support credited the cost of the replacement SIM to my T-Mobile account)
  • Have T-Mobile support activate the replacement SIM and waited two hours
  • Multiple restarts of the iPad (after practically every step above)
  • Talk to (actually passed to) Apple Support (fortunately Apple was closed when this was tried)

The solution was to have T-Mobile support delete the existing Free Data for Life plan and service telephone number from their system and assign a new phone number (and no service plan) to the SIM and IMEI.  The iPad was then prompted to create or sign in with an existing T-Mobile ID (I used my existing ID).  Then I needed to pick a data plan:

  • “Always Connected”: Postpaid subscriptions of GB or MB of data a month
  • “Data on the Fly”: Data “packs” that expire after a period of time or when exhausted
  • “Plain and Simple”: No paid data

The “Plain and Simple” option is what I wanted, since that provides the monthly 200MB of free data without any contract or any billing relationship with T-Mobile at all.  Once I set up the new data “plan”, cellular data was once again working. If you’re considering using T-Mobile’s Free Data for Life plan, make sure you save certain information because it will be necessary if you have to talk to T-Mobile Support:

  • The T-Mobile ID (the email address used when the account was created)
  • The T-Mobile account password (although T-Mobile support never asked for this, it was necessary when signing into the T-Mobile account)
  • The phone number assigned to the iPad (available from the “View Account” button under the “Cellular Data” section of “Settings”
  • The account PIN (note this PIN is emailed to you upon successful registration, unfortunately I did not know that until after I had worked with T-Mobile Support to reset the PIN)
  • The SIM card number
  • The IMEI number of the iPad

Hopefully the issues I experienced getting T-Mobile service up and running on a replacement iPad were because I wasn’t a paying customer.  However I’d think the whole idea behind the Free Data for Life plan is to get T-Mobile’s SIM into as many iPads as possible, and difficulties like this make it hard to use T-Mobile’s service.