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With my Galaxy S3, my girlfriend's Galaxy S4 and her mother's Galaxy Core, we cannot download MMS automatically. We have to turn on data before doing so.
This problem is not happening with her sister's Galaxy Ace: whenever they receive a MMS, data is automatically turned on, and then off once the MMS is downloaded.

Now, this isn't a real problem most of the time (more of an annoying one), but my girlfriend's mother has a very low data plan (100mb) and often forgets to switch off data once the MMS is received, so she often maxes out her data plan.

I have tried something I found here: copy the existing APN and setting only "mms" as APN type, but it doesn't work.

My girlfriend and I are Orange (France) and her mother is Bouygues.

Thanks for your help!

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Again something is able to solve (and maybe one of its "free alternatives" such as as well – but as a Tasker user, I can better describe it for that):

Both apps can act on events, and execute tasks. So let me construct a fake-profile (use it as "guide", not literally):

  • Condition:
    • Received Text (Tasker does not differentiate between SMS and MMS here)
  • Task:
    • Mobile Data → On
    • Wait → 1 min (set a time frame sufficient to connect and download the MMS)
  • Exit-Task: (optional)
    • Mobile Data → Off

The Exit-Task is optional. By default, Tasker restores the "before-state" automatically.

So what would this do? Whenever a message (SMS or MMS) is received, it would turn on mobile data for a minute to download the text, and then automatically switch it off again.

As I'm not sure whether an incoming MMS would even be signaled with data off, let's have a "Plan B":

  • Condition:
    • State→Mobile Network is On
  • Task:
    • Wait → 10 min (adjust time frame to fit your needs)
  • Exit-Task:
    • Mobile Data → Off

This would be a kind of "don't forget me" timer: If your girlfriends mother turns on data to receive the MMS, and forgets to turn it off again, it would automatically be turned off after the configured time-frame. Here the exit-task is mandatory, so Tasker does not restore the "before-state".

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None of the suggestions in the other answers worked for me. I downloaded a 3rd party messaging app called Textra SMS. It worked perfectly, it has the "automatically turn on data for MMS" option and a nice simple layout.

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To disable mobile data except for MMS:

  1. SettingsMobile networksAccess Point Names
    • Lollipop: SettingsMoreCellular networksAccess Point Names
  2. Select the APN for your carrier by tapping the name → APN type
  3. Set the value to mms
    enter image description here
    • Delete anything else in APN type
    • mms must be lower-case
  4. Menu/hamburger icon → Save

  5. At this point it should return you to the list of APNs, and there should no longer be an option to select the APN for your carrier. In addition, the 3G/4G indicator should go away. If you have other APNs in the list, you need to either delete them, or disable MMS for them, like so:

    1. Select the APN by tapping the name
    2. Modify APN type and remove mms
    3. If APN type is empty, you may need to add a type, such as default,supl. The exact type you use will vary by carrier.
    4. Menu/hamburger icon → Save
  6. Make sure your mobile data is enabled:

    SettingsMobile networksON

    • Lollipop: swipe from the top with two fingers → tap your mobile network name → enable the Cellular data toggle near the top right

Now your data should automatically turn on/off when sending/receiving MMS messages.

If for some reason this doesn't work, you may need to create a dummy APN and set it as the default. Just add a new APN, give it a name, fill in a dummy domain name for APN, set the APN type to default, then save it and select it as the default.

If you ever want to undo this and change back to the default settings, just to go back to the Access Point Names menu → menu/hamburger icon → Reset to default

More information here:
Answer: How to configure Android for MMS only on AT&T (no data)
Change APN to disable Internet while enabling MMS on Samsung Ace 2

Otherwise:

If you want to do turn data on/off when sending/receiving MMS messages without completely disabling your mobile data for other uses, there are alternative SMS apps you can use that have this functionality built in, such as:

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