AT&T iPhone Activation Hell

iPhone Activation Hell
Source: Engadget.

Update: Ok, I’ve officially changed the headline on this blog post to AT&T; iPhone Activation Hell.

Well, my new iPhone still is not activated. I’m on hold right now with AT&T; and will blog the whole process. At the Apple store I was told that I didn’t need to do anything with the phone except take it home turn it on and plug it into iTunes.

So earlier this morning when I turned it on it did not go on. No problem, but it might be nice to ship with at least enough battery juice to do the activation. So I charged up the phone.

About an hour later I plugged the phone into my MacBook Pro and opened up iTunes (I’d already installed the new iTunes upgrade yesterday). iTunes immediately recognized my phone and then had me go through a series of steps, agree to the TOS, agree to pay $20 for the data plan, etc. When I entered in my existing AT&T; phone number it informed that I already had an account, had me verify the last four digits of my SS# etc.

So far so good.

But then when I thought I should be finishing activation I got a message that said that it could not activate my phone and that I would receive an email back notifying me when my phone had been activated.

I also received the following confirmation email message from Apple/AT&T; at 10:42 a.m.:

“AT&T; is now processing your activation. You will receive an email confirmation once your activation is complete.”

By 2:30pm I still had not received my activation email so I decided to check my junk mail folder to see if maybe it was in there and it was.

In my junk mail folder was the following message timed at 12:02pm:

“We’re sorry. AT&T; has identified a problem with the information you provided.

For more information, call 877-800-3701.

Please refer to your Activation ID when calling. (816XXX) “

So I called the number. The number asked me to press or say 1 if I had an activation ID which I did. The good news is that the call was promptly answered by a human being. So this person asked me which of my phone numbers I was calling about (I have two phone numbers with AT&T; on a family plan, one for me and one for my wife). I gave her my phone number and she told me that the SIM chip in my phone was incompatible with my phone number.

She wanted to make sure that I put the sim card that came with my iPhone into the phone. I told her that I wasn’t aware of any chip that was supposed to go into this phone and said that at the Apple store that they just told me to go home and hook it up to iTunes. She ensured me that there was a chip that was supposed to go with my phone and that it should have been included in my box. I disagreed again whereby she told me that she had been doing these activations all day and that there was indeed a chip I needed to put into my phone. I asked her where the slot was to put the chip in and she said she thought it was on the left side of the phone. I couldn’t find any place to put a chip. So she put me on hold again and came back and said that she was going to need to submit a trouble ticket.

She said that the trouble tickets were being dealt with pretty quickly though and that she thought in the next few hours that my phone should be activated on its own.

I should mention that throughout this, the customer service woman from AT&T; was very polite and nice.

So that’s where we are now. The phone still isn’t activated. I’ll check it again in the next few hours and if it’s still not activated I’ll call back again.

6:26pm Update: Ok, so it’s been a few hours and the iPhone still has not been activated. Nor have I received additional correspondance from Apple or AT&T.; I’ll try to phone them again a little latter on tonight after I have the kids down. Kristopher is telling me that there has to be a way to hack around the activation screen but so far even he hasn’t figured that one out.

6:36pm Update: Just tried calling AT&T; again and went through the same push 1 call transfer thing. This time though I actually sat on hold for about 5 minutes and then all of a sudden my phone call was disconnected from AT&T.; Will try to call back again.

7:26pm Update: Ok, just spent 33 minutes and 14 seconds on the phone with AT&T.; This time the customer service rep told me that the problem with my account is that my bill on my AT&T; account is in arears. The thing is that this account is paid by auto-debit every single month and it is not in arears. So the activation person said she could not do anything for me until I took care of this balance (less than one month’s service by the way). So she transferred me to AT&T; customer service where I could get this issue cleared up. Unfortunately after going through the menu associated with AT&T; customer service message I received a message from them telling me that they were closed and would not be open until Monday. So it may be until Monday that I can activate my iPhone. We are going to call them back and try the activation people again. Kristopher is here with me at my house for this and we are broadcasting it live on ZooomrTV. Well see where it goes this time.

8:19 Update: Ok, we just sat on hold for 55 minutes. After 55 minutes we were disconnected on the phone. We are not deterred though. We are calling back again. Live on ZooomrTV.

8:24pm Update: Sat on hold for 5 minutes and then got a message saying that due to uncontrolable high call volume that we’d need to call back later.

8:25 Update: Couldn’t even get through. Got an immediate “due to high volume” message. Dialing back again. I have more resolve than the AT&T; robot. We WILL win!

9:14pm Update: Finally got a hold of someone from AT&T.; Apparently my activation can’t take place because my wife has too old a phone. I have to order a new phone for her in order to activate. Apparently they can activate me now, but it will kill her cell phone and we have to find a new phone online for her in the future (and apparently I have to pay for a new phone for her as well). This person said that my number would likely be activated in the next two hours.

11:15pm Update: Still no activation. Trying to call AT&T; back.

12:39am Update: Just spent over one hour on hold with AT&T; and my house phone battery died. Disconnected. Damn! Just called AT&T; back on a fresh battery. Will keep trying until we get this damn phone activated. Broadcasting it all live on ZooomrTV.

7:43am (Sunday) Update: iPhone is still not activated this morning. Going to try and call AT&T; back right now and see what’s up.

7:53am (Sunday) Update: There is only a voicemail on the iPhone activation line asking me to leave a message. Will have to try back again later.

8:49am (Sunday) Update: Been on hold now for 26 minutes and 4 seconds waiting. Steve Rubel is having a hell of a time getting his phone activated as well.

9:23am (Sunday) Update: The comedy of errors continue. Was on hold for about 32 minutes when someone came on the line to help me. After giving her all my inf
o she said that she wasn’t allowed to help me and that she’d been instructed to transfer me to something called Telegence. I’m not sure what Telegence is, but maybe my account’s been flagged at this point to get extra nice customer service or something. She told me that I’d need to wait about 9 more minutes to talk to Telegence. She also gave me their direct number to call back in case I was disconnected 877-777-4192. I waited about another 15 minutes and finally heard someone else come on the phone and say “hello?” I answered back “hello.” And then he said “can you hear me?” And I said “yes, can you hear me?” And he said “yes” and then I said, I need some help activating my iPhone and then he say “Oh, man, I’m a customer too. I thought you answered to help me!”

So we commiserated a little bit. He’d been on hold for about 45 minutes and both decided that the best thing to do at this point was to try and call back. grrrrr. I’m calling this Telegence number back now.

9:36a.m. (Sunday) Update: Ok, I’m on the phone right now with an AT&T; person. I have to say that that Telegence number I was given *rocks* You go straight to a que to be answered by a live person. No pressing 1, no anything. Unfortunately the Telegence person couldn’t do anything for me. She said I may have to wait until later on tonight. Kristopher thinks we should try and call Apple care support or something so we are going to try them next.

10:01am Sunday Update: Just got off the phone with Apple Customer Care. They are actually blaming AT&T;’s servers. They are saying that when I put my iPhone in the base that it actually pings AT&T;’s servers to make sure everything is ok. So the problem is probably that there is some sort of glitch or something with AT&T.; He said to keep waiting. I think that’s all I may be able to do at this point. I suppose if it’s not activated by tomorrow I might be able to actually walk it into an AT&T; store and see if I can make better progress.

Update: Just took an Engadget poll that says 38% of people are having a problem activating their iPhones. Unscientific of course, but interesting nonetheless.

12:26pm Sunday Update: Just called Apple customer care back again. They transfered us to Apple iPhone internal second tier and then second tier transferred us back to AT&T.; This has now taken 57 minutes on this call. AT&T; tells us that there is a department at Apple though to deal with this and she is trying to connect to them. She just came back and said that she was going to have to try and contact another area at Apple. Apparently, according to this person, the iPhone must remain in the docking station the entire time in order to be activated.

She also disputed the previous agent who said that my wife’s old phone was incompatible with the family plan. We are on hold right now while she tries a third department at Apple.

5:07pm Sunday Update: Mission accomplished! The iPhone is activated!

42 Replies to “AT&T iPhone Activation Hell”

  1. I’ve had the same experience. I live on the east coast and was #6 in line. The AT&T; store in my city had some computer problems so it was nearly 7pm when I left. By 7:20pm I was home, hooked up and had gone through the entire process and finished activation process via ITunes. I similarly received an email saying it would take additional time, and then later an email stating there was a problem.

    I called and spoke with someone around 8:30pm EST last night and they said, no, there was no problem, just give it some extra time since I was porting a number from Verizon.

    So, I was dissapointed at midnight when it still didn’t work but thought it would be on Saturday morning. 9am — no luck.
    10am, no luck.

    Called several times all day. Spoke to the “port” department at 888-898-7685. They said they hadn’t even received my request.

    Called Verizon… they said no request from AT&T.;

    Received numerous different answers but finally after talking to several different people, a couple of them referred to credit check. Even though the local AT&T; store did one, it seems it was on hold for some manual process for a human to review.


    So at 6:30pm eastern…. I finally spoke with someone who says all thats been released and she finished “processing it.”

    However, she said the clock on the “up-to 24 hour activation process” begins now, not 24 hours ago when I started.

    AT&T; has really blown the process on this. She did tell me it should be closer to 3 or 4 hours, instead of 24.

    We’ll see. I’ve cancelled an out-of-town trip thinking it would be resolved…. now I realize I should have just gone and left the frustration behind….


  2. Thomas,

    While the lady you spoke with may have been very polite, she obviously had zero proper information about the iPhone, otherwise she would have known the following things:

    1. The iPhone SIM card is pre-installed at the factory
    2. To get to the SIM card, insert a paperclip into the small hole on top of the iPhone and press firmly (it takes a good bit of pressure). NOTE: Do this with the iPhone OFF.

    Your best bet may be to go to an AT&T; store and have someone there try to complete the activation (this has worked for some).

    Part of the activation issue is that AT&T; was very much not prepared for the number of people who would be doing activations. Regardless, you’re right — AT&T; has dropped the ball in many ways.


  3. Update…. things seem to be progressing…. about an hour after the last AT&T; Rep got things moving again (as described in my last post), then I called in and spoke with someone who said everything was complete… although I still have an IPhone that has yet to start working.

    This time the AT&T; rep, who was very nice, said she would have to have someone from Apple’s tech to take a look at the situation since AT&T; had finished it’s part of the activation and the # was ported from Verizon (one hour after AT&T; finally processed my order, 24 hours after I did the ITunes application).

    So, I’m on hold now… will update with more info later

  4. I had the same problem and went to the ATT store and they were able to get things going for me. I still had to activate with iTunes afterwards, but since they took care of the ported number, I just select use my phone with existing ATT number.

    Overall I’d say ATT really dropped the ball on this one, not sure what Apple could have done to make this situation better.

  5. First of all AT&T; customer service is horrible so these stories do not surprise me. Thankfully I bought my phone at 11pm from the Apple store last night, activated it with iTunes and at around 11:30pm I got the email saying it had been activated and everything is great now. Note that I did not exchange the SIMM card though, I already had all my contacts in Outlook and imported them over via Tunes.

  6. Yeah I spent the last 18 hours in activation hell. Now my phone is (sort of) activated. I can at least use the wifi and mess around with it as of this afternoon but placing calls or setting visual vm still fails every time. Nice.
    Chip=sim and she is an wrong they ship preinstalled (at least the ones shipped to AT&T; and would imagine all), and they go in the top. There is no other moving parts. You need a paper clip to cause it eject.

    Anyway AT&T; gets and F as far as I’m concerned, though the phone it’s self is pretty slick, with a bit more work on some of the software (geez email, SSL anyone gah), I think it will be a real winner. for activation hell and AT&T; bone headness at the retail store.

  7. Ah, technology woes. Nothing depresses the emotions like hopeless uncertainty. Cheer up, Tom. At least you know how to use a cell phone. I don’t. I have a brother who gets supremely annoyed when I have to ask for help.

  8. Thomas,

    Sorry you are having these problems. My activation went on without a hitch, took maybe 20 minutes.

    I will say this. AT&T; had their employees well trained in the fun aspects of the IPhone but (at least the person I spoke with) new nothing about warranty and insurance. We only get the Apple 1 year warranty (hopefully and extended one will come out soon) and you cannot get insurance on the phone. He did assure me that since I am not using my upgrade on this phone that if for some reason I needed a new one later (like I get mugged for my IPhone) I’d be able to use the upgrade. Hopefully I don’t find out.

  9. no consolation I know, but my activation took about 10 minutes….to be fair, I’m a Verizon customer, so I am a new account on ATT, but it went exceptionally smoothly.

    sorry to hear your travails….it seems from my readings that most of the problems are with existing customers…not with new customers. is that your sense????

  10. Good luck getting this resolved. Myself and a couple of friends all had no issues activating our iPhones. I’m an existing AT&T; customer and was done with activation in a few minutes.

    I didn’t really want one, but after my friend had an extra I caved and am really loving it! Hang in there it’s really worth it.

  11. I actually had to return my iPhone because it woulnt activate. It was actually defective. I got a new one with a different sim card and it worked fine.

  12. I just read on the Apple Support forums that there is a code “1APL” that Apple must put on the account before ITunes activates the IPhone.

    This is all F***cking APPLES fault.

    THe AT&T; Rep is being very helpful this morning at 11:50am and is trying to have them do it now.

    I have no idea what it means…. but I read it somewhere on and the rep, without me asking mentioned a code that wasn’t on the account. I asked if it was 1APL and she said yes, that was the problem…

  13. I don’t know if this helps, but I just read this on Rafe Colburn’s blog:

    “Apparently the secret to getting your iPhone activated as soon as possible is to leave it plugged into your computer and connected to iTunes until activation is complete. A support person from AT&T; told me that the their system works by going through a queue and pinging every unactivated phone in turn to activate them. If the system can’t see your phone, you lose your place in the queue and have to wait for the next time.

    Those of us trained by the iPod are in the habit of disconnecting from our computer once the sync is complete, but when it comes to iPhone activation don’t do that. Just plug in the dock and wait.”

  14. what did you expect? AT&T; is crap… Sure I’d give my first born for an iPhone, but not if I have to use AT&T.; What you describe does not surprise me at all and is pretty much what I have to deal with my company phone.

  15. Hi Thomas,

    Your experience sounds just like mine, right down to the amount of time it’s taken to get the thing activated.

    I’m relieved to say I finally got it working. (I apologize in advance if I’m giving you any info you’ve already got, I perused your posting pretty quickly.)

    I had the same problem with account compatibility, then with the billing (I’m also auto pay), then with account compatibility again, given that the folks who initially said they’d adjusted my account apparently didn’t do so correctly.

    Bottom line: There are two groups, the “Customer Care” people, who can make account adjustments and the “Activations” folks, who can figure out why phones won’t activate AND can activate them once the account is configured correctly. These groups don’t cross-pollinate voluntarily.

    The winner number for me was **877-800-3701**, which is Activations. You’ll wait up to an hour. They don’t have access to fix accounts (see above), but if you push/ask the right way they will put you on hold for a while and go get the Customer Care folks to “fix” your account. Once your account is in order they can activate with you right there on the line.

    It’s worth the wait. This thing is incredible.

    Good luck. Drop me a note with any questions.

  16. not sure if this will help, but if you’re trying to transfer an old phone number to the iPhone, you might want to try to use your original Zip Code associated with the Area code of the phone number you’re trying to transfer… You should be prompted to use a different (current) address later in the process. Hope this helps. -Kevin

  17. I bought an 8GB iPhone on Friday, at Valley Fair Mall in Santa Clara, CA. I didn’t activate the phone until the next day at 12:00pm noon — It took all of three minutes to activate my iPhone. I have two lines on my account, which is a Family Talk plan.

    Not sure why they would tell you that it could not be activated while under a FT plan.

  18. Get a life…

    Just try to activate it a few days later…
    You probably cost both companys already 100’s of dollars with your useless callings.

  19. I bought the iPhone in annapolis Apple Store, and my activation process took me like 8 mins. So youshould have waited patiently, its just a phone man… not the end of the world.

  20. I don’t get it. I can see spending a few hours of my life trying to get a gadget to work, but spending literally days trying to get the thing to work? Put it down for a day or two and try again when they have the bugs ironed out. When they do get it fixed, make sure that they give you a concession on your bill. Better yet, take it back to the store and wait for the next version.

  21. I am now ported after 20 phone calls and 39hrs.
    Called the porting department at AT&T; at 7:00am this morning and they manualy got me transfered from Verizon.
    Don’t let anyone tell you different. This is a AT&T; srew up. Plus, they were closed yesterday, CLOSED!

    Apple, what were you thinking. Get away from AT&T;, fast.

  22. Let me get this straight. You spent the entire weekend trying to activate your phone? And if you get hit by a bus tomorrow, will that have been a weekend well spent? OK, I understand it’s a cool phone and all, but in the end, it’s a TELEPHONE. Seriously, guys, you need to put the darn thing down and go outside for a while. The world won’t end. AT&T; will get their act together in a few days.

  23. to the guy who said: GO OUTSIDE. That’s the beauty of the iPhone you can read the thing in direct sunlight and surf the web speedily (if you can find a good wifi connection).

    the iPhone is the best “go outside” phone EVER. 😉

    P.S. my activation didn’t go “smoothly”, but it only took 10 minutes and I did receive an e-mail letting me know activation was complete.

  24. iPhone – a Video Phone
    – With NO Video,
    – and NO TV-OUT.
    – and my Java Applets wont run?!?

    Sun Java Applets run on the Mac Safari,
    but not on the iPhone – Fix it STEVE!

  25. I had initial troubles with activation and decided to go to the local AT&T; store in Columbia, MD. I was the only customer that was in the store and walked in…

    I was not greeted at all and walked up to the counter and the 2 employees just stood there and didn’t even ask if I needed assistance. I HAD to initiate the conversation..

    So far AT&T; customer service sucks and I didn’t realize their 1-800 customer service(human) is closed on Sundays.

  26. Just curious but my current Cingular / AT&T; phone interferes with anything electronic (TV, Phone, Stereo…etc). For instance, when I’m receiving a call and my phone is next to the TV, etc it makes a very annoying sound. Funny but my work phone is on Sprint and I never have an issue let alone getting dropped 24×7.

    I’m guessing this same annoyance exists with the iPhone. What a total bummer if that’s the case.

  27. I am all down with instant gratification and everything, but it was A DAY AND HALF that you couldn’t use your phones and you still had your old phone.

    Relax, leave your blog alone for a bit, tell your kids you love ’em.

    Stop freaking out.

  28. My experience was very different from all of yours. That’s because I chose not to buy an overprice IdiotPHONE. My vx6700 does everything plus it does picture and video. It was easy to set up, easy to use, and cost a fraction of the IdiotPHONE. I guess some folks self esteem just rely’s on owning what they think is cool. It’s so sad, so very sad. I’m starting to get all teary eyed.

  29. Hey I work for At&T; activations myself, well here is the truth the system works by going through a queue and pinging every unactivated phone in turn to activate them. If the system can’t see your phone, you lose your place in the queue and have to wait for the next time. So keep your Iphone on the dock connected to Itunes so you don’t have to wait longer. Why some agents are telling you guys/girls somethings is crazy too. If your porting your number over make sure your zip code matches where your phone number came from originally or else there are going to be even more issues, which sucks, but we can also fix that too by changing your address to activate the phone and then change it back after we activate it!!! Comon well does anyone know the names of any agents that have helped them out great or supervisors???? Drop the list I’d love to see it!!!

  30. Telegence is a billing system used for the northeast region. CARE is the other billing system that you were routed to for some odd reason and the CARE agent had to transfer you to the telegence agents because they could not pull up your account. You just had very bad luck with the agents you got to do the customer service for you. I would have resolved this issue as soon as you called in. Why did you not talk with ATT TECH SUPPORT the whole time? They would have fixed your problem right away.

  31. I am facing the same issues.
    they told it actiovates as soo as you go home and plug in but its 1day no reply.

  32. You cannot believe how long ive been searching for something like this. Browsed through 5 pages of Google results couldn’t find diddly squat. Very first page on Bing. There this is… Really have to start using it more often!

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