Ask LH: Can I Get Around iOS 3G App Download Limits?

Ask LH: Can I Get Around iOS 3G App Download Limits?
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Dear Lifehacker, I was just wondering if you know of a way I can purchase large applications from Apple whilst on the go (away from iTunes and usually Wi-Fi). Normally the 20MB limit on 3G app downloads will stop me, which can be a pain as I keep an eye on apps when they drop in price, and if I am not near Wi-Fi or iTunes on my computer (which happens a bit) then I can miss out on some apps at a decent price. Even being able to purchase them and download later would be enough. Any ideas? Cheers, App Hungry

Dear App Hungry,

The logic of Apple imposing a limitation on what you can download via the App Store when you’re on a 3G connection isn’t hard to spot — it ensures you have a better downloading experience and that you don’t end up with excess data charges if you’re on a really cheap plan. The likelihood of both is admittedly smaller than it used to be: 3G networks are more reliable and the download limits on iPhone-specific plans are generous enough that the odd app really shouldn’t be a problem.

While the figure has changed — it was 10MB before hitting the current 20MB ceiling — there’s no indication that Apple plans to ditch it any time soon (though Apple’s secretive nature means you can’t rule anything out for the future). For the present, the limitation can be annoying in the scenario you describe: there’s a great special on an app, but you won’t be near a Wi-Fi network until after it has run out.

The only direct option I’m aware of to solve this problem is to jailbreak your iPhone and then purchase a Cydia app called 3G Unrestrictor, which amongst its other features lets you set your iPhone to act as if it on a Wi-Fi connection even if it is actually using 3G. Not owning an iPhone, I haven’t personally tested this, and you may not be comfortable with jailbreaking your device, though there are plenty of good reasons to do so.

Failing that, you need to find a Wi-Fi connection. We’ve covered how to locate free Wi-Fi before, and in Australia McDonald’s remains the most widespread choice. Another alternative (though it eats into portability) is to carry a 3G Wi-Fi hotspot device, and connect your phone to that via Wi-Fi. That would definitely be overkill if you never used the device at any other time, but it is a way to work around the restriction. If Lifehacker readers have any other good strategies for dealing with this problem, we’d love to hear them in the comments.



  • “Even being able to purchase them and download later would be enough.”

    I’m pretty sure you CAN purchase an app that is larger than 20Mb and just download it when you’re near WiFi or plugged in to iTunes.

    Your iPhone will happily buy it, then just complain when it tries to actually download it.

    • yea shaun is right. You buy it. then next time you go to the store you buy it again and it will say “oh you have already bought it therefore we won’t charge you”. thats happened plenty of times when i have deleted a game than about a few months later i want to play it and forgot i bought it so i buy it again and it comes up “you had a previous version of this app therefore you get this update for free”

    • As far as I am aware purchasing without downloading is not possible. The moment you attempt to purchase/ download anything bigger than 20mb it will tell you to go and get a wifi connection, without ever concluding the purchase.

  • The irony I find when hitting the download limit is that I live in a rural location, so my home connection is a Telstra 3G Modem/WiFi Gateway. So my iPad or iPhone says 3G limit please use WiFi. So I think, but, but …. my WiFi is using the same 3G service (Telstra).

    Is the download limit an Apple idea or is it to keep the telcos happy? If it’s requested by the telco’s then it’s dumb in my case.

  • I took the Telstra portable 3G WiFi hotspot option myself. not only do i give myself more data allowance when i want it, but i get better coverage that what my Optus phone gives, a faster average download rate plus i am able to use it in my office where i get effectively 0 Optus coverage. Upside, i can download over 20mb any time i want.

  • My experience has been that you can NOT purchase apps over 20MB on 3G connection and then download later. I’ve tried a few times to grab discounted apps, but only had 3G availalble… no-go… I missed out.

    I wondered how/why Optus had managed to increase my 2009/2010 iPhone Timeless $99 Plan included data from 1GB to the current 6GB on the 2010/2011 plan for iPhone4… it’s because it’s virtually impossible to download even 1GB… let alone 6GB a month using iPhone.

    It really annoys me that Apple has one in-flexible rule for this for the whole world. Here in Australia, my provider gives me an amount of 3G data per month.. currently 6GB… it’s MINE to use, how i WANT to use it.. if I want to use 320MB of it to download RageHD, then that’s MY choice.. not Apple’s (except it reality is, it is Apple’s restrictive choice).

    How far they have fallen since those ads in 1984 when they had ideals and principals.

  • what a joke! a smartphone that thinks its users are so dumb they cant work out if 20MB will fit within their limit. doesnt sound like a smartphone to me.

    guess watching porn on your ‘smartphone’ is out of the question too given the file size of a good bit of porn 🙂

  • How expensive must the app be to start with that a price drop compensates for the expensive 3G data download cost?

    The cost benefit analysis on this doesn’t stack on first reading.

    • Presumably if you’re on a generous plan in terms of downloads, you can download via 3G without incremental cost. I agree that if that’s not the case, the discount might need to be substantial.

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