How to Activate Your iPhone - dummies

By Joe Hutsko, Barbara Boyd

Even though your iPhone has lots of other applications besides calling, many of them don’t work until you activate your iPhone: You must connect the phone to a cellular network through your cellular service provider; and, if it’s a GSM phone, you must install a SIM card.

Connect to a cellular network

You can purchase an iPhone with a cellular network contract or without a contract, which is called an unlocked iPhone — not to be confused with the Unlocked/Wake mode. Here’s the difference:

  • Contract: iPhone is activated when you sign up for a service plan with an iPhone service. In the U.S., your cellular network carrier choices are AT&T, which uses the GSM cellular communications protocol; Verizon; and Sprint, which use the CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access) cellular communications protocol.

    You register your phone with the network and pick a plan for the calling minutes, text messages, and Internet service usage you want.

  • Unlocked: iPhone 5 or later arrives without a nano-SIM (that’s the little chip inside that gives you access to the cellular network), while iPhone 4 and 4s have a micro-SIM, which is a bit smaller than a normal SIM and a bit bigger than the nano-SIM.

    You purchase a nano-SIM from a service provider and then purchase prepaid calling minutes in a pay-as-you-go option. Cellular broadband Internet access may be sold separately or bundled with the calling minutes and text message allotment. You can use an unlocked iPhone with a contract; in that case, you bought your iPhone outright so the monthly contract should be less than iPhone plus a cellular service fee.

    T-Mobile provides national pay-as-you-go service and about 30 regional carriers offer pay-as-you-go service. Unlocked iPhones work only with carriers who use the GSM cellular communications standard (AT&T and T-Mobile in the U.S.).

    If you spend a lot of time overseas, say in France, you can purchase a prepaid SIM in France, which you put in your iPhone when you’re there. When you’re in the U.S., you put the U.S.-based SIM in your iPhone.

How to insert a nano-SIM card

If you bought an unlocked phone, you must purchase and insert a GSM nano-SIM. GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) is the cellular service that’s available in Europe and lots of other places around the world.

To insert the nano-SIM, do the following:

  1. Insert the end of a paper clip into the hole on the SIM card tray on the right side of your iPhone.

    The SIM card tray pops open.

  2. Place the SIM card in the tray, matching the cut corner of the SIM card to the cut corner in the tray.

  3. Push the SIM card tray closed, and you’re done.

Working with the Setup Assistant

When you turn on your iPhone for the first time, the Setup Assistant takes you through a series of screens where you type in the requested information or choose from a list and tap Next or Done.

You have to have a Wi-Fi or cellular network data connection to complete activation; otherwise, you must connect your iPhone to your computer with the USB connector cable. The Setup Assistant asks for the following information:

  • Language: Tap your selection in the list.

  • Country: Tap your selection in the list.

  • Wi-Fi network: A list of available Wi-Fi networks appears. Click the one you use and type in the password. If Wi-Fi is unavailable, you can connect your iPhone to your computer with the USB to Dock connector cable and choose Connect to iTunes.

  • Location Services: It is recommended that you choose Enable Location Services, which lets various iPhone apps such as Maps and Reminders to use your location to better perform operations.

  • Set Up iPhone: If this is your first iPhone, you can choose Set Up as New iPhone or you can restore from a backup of your iPad or iPod touch, which puts your apps, data, and media on your iPhone.

    If you are moving from an older iPhone to a newer model, first backup your old phone and then choose Restore from iCloud Backup or Restore from iTunes Backup (whichever you use).

  • Sign in or create an Apple ID: Although you can choose to skip this step, your Apple ID lets you

    Store your iPhone backup on iCloud (Apple’s remote storage site).

    Make purchases from the iTunes Store and the App Store.

    Sign in to FaceTime.

  • If you have separate Apple IDs for iTunes and iCloud, follow the onscreen instructions to sign in to both. iCloud requires ID with an e-mail format, such as, so you may have to create a new account to activate iCloud.

    The Setup Assistant asks you to create an ID and password and set up a security question — a question only you know the answer to that Apple asks if you forget your password or if you call for customer service and the technician wants to verify your identity.

  • Set Up Touch ID (iPhone 5S): Tap Set Up Now to go through the process that allows an iPhone 5s to memorize your fingerprint. (Tap Set Up Later if you prefer to postpone this action.) After setting up Touch ID, touching the Home button unlocks your iPhone and can also be used in place of your Apple ID password to authorize purchases.


  • iTunes Store Sign in: Type your Apple ID and password and Agree to the Terms and Conditions when asked.

  • iCloud Set up: You can choose to use iCloud or decline and then set up iCloud later.

  • Messaging: Choose which phone number and e-mail address other people can use to reach you on iMessage, iPhone’s text messaging service, and FaceTime, iPhone’s audio and video calling service that uses cellular data or Wi-Fi.

  • Diagnostics: It is recommended you choose Automatically Send. Tap Start Using iPhone after you complete the setup procedure.