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I have an iPhone 3GS I no longer use as the battery does not hold and I have a new iPhone 4. I was thinking of using it from time to time at home just to browse or read emails without cellular network (i.e., with no SIM).

After a long time I switched it on initialized it and realized that I need a SIM to activate it (although I already activated it years ago).

What are my options? Can I activate the old 3GS with my current SIM or will I deactivate my new phone? Should I try to get a Phonebook SIM? I would prefer not to jailbreak it if there is a way.

Edit: the phone was officially unlocked after 2 years of contract.

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If the phone is unlocked, you can use it with any SIM, even from a different GSM operator or even a SIM that is not in service (obviously in this case it won't work as a phone). If you don't have one or can't find one, you may be able to get prepaid SIM for cheap from an GSM operator.

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I was not thinking about using it as a phone. Just as an iPod touch. But I wasn't thinking about cheap prepaid: I could get one and the phone could be used as phone in case of emergency. –  Matteo Apr 15 '12 at 15:18
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If the SIM is unactive, you can't use it as a phone. With an active SIM, but if you don't want to use it as a phone or if you want to save battery, you can turn Airplane mode on, but then you can turn WiFi on: support.apple.com/kb/HT1355, so it would work like iPod. And with active SIM, you always have the option to turn Airplane mode off and use it as a phone if needed. –  lupincho Apr 15 '12 at 15:22

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