Activation problems plague iPhone debut

Some users waited more than 18 hours for phone activation

New iPhone owners transferring existing cell phone numbers, especially from rival carriers, have reported AT&T activation delays that prevent them from using the phone except to make 911 emergency calls.

Easily the biggest glitch in yesterday's national rollout, activation problems began lighting up message forums shortly after the iPhone went on sale at 6 p.m. "Your activation requires additional time to complete," was the error message frustrated users saw after attempting to activate. While they waited, users were unable to access any non-emergency feature of the iPhone; they quickly dubbed it the "iBrick."

Users were still waiting Saturday morning.

"I had my iPhone by 6:40 PM yesterday. It's now 12:30 PM the following day and I'm still waiting for activation," wrote a user identified as "fp1" on the Apple support forum. Those forums showed that more than 20,000 people had read the various threads dedicated to iPhone activation issues, with the record set by a thread with 438 replies and over 16,000 reads.

"Coming up on 15 hours waiting for activation, still nothing," added Chris McCulloh on the same thread late Saturday morning.

Existing AT&T customers transferring their cell phone numbers were affected, as were people porting their numbers from competitors such as Verizon and T-Mobile. In many cases, users found that their old number had been deactivated, leaving them without a cell phone as they waited for iPhone activation to kick in.

Tempers flared as users noted that the iPhone User Guide((download PDF) seemed to claim that they could use their new iPhones while awaiting activation. Page 5 of the guide states: "AT&T will send you a welcome text message a few minutes after activation is complete, letting you know that you can receive calls. If you are migrating your current phone number to iPhone, activation is usually completed in less than 20 minutes, but may take several hours depending on your previous carrier. In the meantime, you can make calls and use iPhone's other features."

"That is a bold face [sic] lie," said Incommunicado1. "My phone has no operable features. I can't so much as set the clock nor an alarm."

Others read the user guide differently, and pointed out that the sentence "In the meantime..." meant while waiting for a number to port, not for activation.

Users on Apple's forums and others recommended activating a new line, rather than porting an existing number; those who did reported activations in under 10 minutes, sometimes faster. A Computerworld editor waited just seven minutes before his iPhone was activated with a new number, for example.

"The vast majority of activations are going through in a matter of minutes, as they're designed to," said AT&T spokesman Mark Siegel on Saturday. "Have there been instances where customers have experienced delays? Yes. We're trying to resolve them as quickly as possible." He declined to provide a number of affected users. Apple was not available for comment.

Angry users, however, were not ready to quickly forget, or forgive, AT&T -- or by association, Apple -- for the problems. "A completely avoidable, yet completely predictable failure on the part of both the AT&T/Cingular and Apple IT staff, as well as the iPhone product team," lamented user Roland Dobbins on the Apple support forum in a long message listing several reasons for the mess.

"This is quite pathetic and un-Apple like," added user MikeCahill. "Everyone said AT&T would suck and they were right. I want my activation fee refunded."

The cruelest cut, however, came from a user tagged as olivia_monroe: "Packing my iphone up now to take back to the store."

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Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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