How to Update iPhone Carrier Settings

A few times a year, your iPhone lets you know that there's a new version of the iOS available for download by popping up a window on the screen. But every so often, you'll see a message notifying you that there's a new "carrier settings update." If you've ever wondered what that means, wonder no more: this article tells you all about what carrier settings updates are and how to work with them on iPhone.

What Are iPhone Carrier Settings?

In order to connect to a cellular phone network, the iPhone needs to have settings that allow it to communicate with, and operate on, that network. The settings control how the phone makes calls, sends text messages, gets data, and accesses voicemail. Each phone company has its own carrier settings. Carrier settings for your phone company are added to your iPhone when you activate the phone.

Unlike other settings on your iPhone, carrier settings are hidden from the user and can't be manually changed.

Illustration of a person holding an iPhone with "carrier settings" message on the screen
Lifewire / Derek Abella

How Are Carrier Settings Different From an iOS Update?

An OS update is a much bigger, more comprehensive update than a carrier settings update. The biggest versions of OS updates—like iOS 12 and iOS 13—introduce hundreds of new features and major changes to the interface of the iOS. The smaller updates (like 12.0.1) fix bugs and add minor features. 

Updates to the OS affect the foundation of the entire phone. Carrier settings updates, on the other hand, are just minor tweaks to a small group of settings and can't change anything other than how the phone works with a given phone company.

How To Update iPhone Carrier Settings

Updating your iPhone carrier settings is simple: when the notification pops up on your screen, tap Update. The settings will be downloaded and applied almost instantaneously. Unlike with an OS update, there's no need to restart your iPhone.

You can usually postpone installing most carrier settings updates by simply tapping Not Now in the pop-up window.

However, in some cases (usually due to security or major network upgrades), carrier settings updates are mandatory. In those cases, the update is automatically downloaded and installed. A push notification with just an OK button lets you know when that's happened. 

How to Check For New iPhone Carrier Settings

There's no button that lets you check for a carrier settings update the way you can check for a new version of the iOS. Usually, the carrier settings notification just appears. However, if you want to check for a carrier settings update, try the following:

  1. Make sure your phone is connected to a Wi-Fi or cellular network, then tap Settings.

  2. Tap General

  3. Tap About.

    Settings icon, General button, About button in iOS screenshots
  4. If there's an update, the notification should appear here.

You can also prompt a carrier settings update by inserting a new SIM card into a phone that's connected to a different network than the previous SIM used. When you do that, you'll be asked to download settings related to the new phone network connected to the new SIM.

Can You Manually Update iPhone Carrier Settings?

Yes. In most cases, the automated notification does everything you need. If you're using an iPhone on a network that's not one of Apple's official, supported partners, you may need to configure your settings manually. To do that, read Apple's article ​about cellular data network settings on your iPhone and iPad.

Can You Find Out What's In A Carrier Settings Update?

This is harder than you'd expect. With iOS updates, Apple explains—at least at a high level—what's in each new version. With carrier settings, though, you won't find a screen that gives the same explanation. Your best bet is to Google information about the update, but chances are, you won't find much.

Luckily, carrier settings updates don't carry the same risk as iOS updates. While an iOS update can (rarely) cause problems with your phone, it's virtually unheard of for a carrier settings update to cause problems. When you get the notification of an update, your best bet is to install it. It's quick, easy, and generally harmless.