Update: Replacement iPhones Will Work With Prepaid SIM Cards

Remember JD? 32 hours of tech support from Apple and AT&T couldn’t coax his replacement iPhone into working with his prepaid SIM card. After we posted his story, representatives from both companies had a powwow and traced JD’s problem back to mismatched IMEI numbers. Now JD’s replacement iPhone works, and he has advice for anyone in a similar bind:

Received a call from an extremely helpful AT&T representative yesterday. She was informed of the situation by Apple, and worked with them to resolve it. Along with AT&T, I received a call from an Apple executive, who was also extremely helpful. Thanks to them both for getting to the bottom of this situation.

The gist of the problem is: the iPhone requires communication through the iTunes Store, then to AT&T, to get past the main activation screen. Part of this communication includes the IMEI number of the iPhone. Since the IMEI numbers didn’t match up compared to my original broken iPhone, this is where the problem was.

If anyone with a prepaid plan ever runs into this situation, your first call should be to Apple. Apple will need to work with AT&T to “whitelist” your iPhone, and then things should be a-ok. Don’t make AT&T your first call, as you’ll just be told that if you’re on a prepaid account, you cannot utilize a replacement iPhone without creating a new account.

Thanks to Consumerist for shedding some light on this situation!

PREVIOUSLY: No Replacements For Prepaid iPhone Users
(Photo: magerleagues)


Edit Your Comment

  1. Trai_Dep says:

    Note that, in the 1st para of the woman’s narrative, she notes that Apple spotted it (via Consumerist – yay!), Apple informed AT&T, Apple worked AT&T thru this w/ them until it was resolved, then an Apple Exec called to check with her to see how things were going. It was probably Apple that explained – in mortal language – what was going on.

    It’s not that Apple really tries so hard (but they do). It’s that other companies don’t. WTF?!

    Apple and consumer-haters that posted on the last article – you may now hang your sawdust-filled heads in abject shame. It’s okay. We won’t watch. Often.

  2. Trai_Dep says:

    Oh, that that kid? The one in the (great!) photo? He can fly any flight, escorted or not, whenever he wants. I’m certain he’s a pleasure to be with.

    …Umm, not in that sense, pervs.

  3. hustler says:

    Why would anyone want an iPhone at this point? iTunes is enough to turn me off to this garbage. Its shockingly typical that the marketting campaign that aims to decieve buyers with “different” and other anti-conformist rhetoric, has so many processes and steps to take which require pleding alegiance to the Apple software dungeon.

  4. Chris H says:

    @trai_dep: I’m a total Mac lover and am writing from my macbook! But apple fans give the company a pass on their policies, which , if any other company tried to foist on the public, we’d be calling anti-competitive. If Microsoft released a phone that required central authentication through windows media player and only worked on a single carrier, would you be calling critics “haters?”

  5. olegna says:

    A cell phone that has to route through media playing software in order to work? What the hell are they “verifying” anyway?

    PS – I just leanred that the iPhone is locked from the get-go for even using the applications. (I know this because I know somebody that has the iPhone purchased on the street in the Middle East. He downloaded the crack for allowing his to simply turn the damn thing on and play around with the touch screen. Now he’s waiting for the crack so he can put a local SIM card in the thing.)

    Why do I need permission from Apple to use the software on a $600 Apple gadget.

    It boggles the mind how crazy Apple fans are to not only put up with crap like that but to defend it at every turn.

    PS – I tried hooking up a DSL modem to my computer . There’s some problem. I thought I could fix the problem by tweaking my Explorer browser settings (I only use Explorer browser for updating Windows and testing connections). It didn’t solve the problem. Then I forgot to set the Explorer setting back to my other Internet connection (a working cable modem connection that I am soon disconnecting).

    With my Explorer settings not working, my iTunes also stopped being able to connect.

    So… iTunes uses Explorer’s settings to connect to the Internet??? Wha??? When I set my Explorer settings back, iTunes began working again. In other words: iTunes doesn’t “automatically” set its LAN settings — it simply cribs them off of Windows Explorer.

    I’m sure what I just said was Greek to the average Mac fan, but I try to educate them. I try :)

  6. drallison83 says:


    iTunes and Explorer will always use the same internet settings because you can only have one group of settings active at a time. It sounds like you have issues with your internet settings in general.

    On activation, you activate you cell through the cell phone company… you activate your iPhone through Apple. Not so different other than requiring iTunes rather than a phone call.

  7. psyrex says:

    Not really, DRALLISON83. When you activate, normally what you’re activating is your new *service*. Any phone you use after that (well, this mainly applies to GSM), you should be able to just put in your SIM and the phone will work out the box. As I upgrade from phone to phone (keeping my current service), I enjoy that I can just get a phone from anywhere, plug in my current SIM, and it’ll just work. There’s no need to call any company, activate anything, or even make any special settings.

  8. LatherRinseRepeat says:

    ..the iPhone requires communication through the iTunes Store, then to AT&T, to get past the main activation screen. Part of this communication includes the IMEI number of the iPhone. Since the IMEI numbers didn’t match up compared to my original broken iPhone, this is where the problem was.

    This is such a moronic way to activate a “phone”. They’re just adding layers of complexity to the whole process. Too much potential for something to go wrong. And why the heck are they validating the IMEI numbers anyways? It’s not necessary to register the IMEI of a phone to use it. I bought an unlocked phone last year and inserted my existing Cingular SIM and it worked fine. I didn’t need to call customer service or anything. I just went to the Cingular website to find out the settings for SMS/MMS and mobile internet, and manually entered it in my phone.

  9. Trai_Dep says:

    So you’re saying I can walk into a Verizon store, create an account (but not pay for it onsite), then go and get a phone from somewhere else (again, not setting it up onsite), then go home and set up my Verizon particulars (payment options, initialization, personalization) at my convenience from my computer? And then activate my phone (again, at home)?

    Wow. That’s AWESOME.

    Oh wait. I can’t. I have to be a prisoner at Verizon, wait in line for an hour, then suffer thru 30 mins of upsell “opportunities”, then have them run a credit check, then have them spend another 30-60 minutes initializing everything so it works.

    (Add t-mobile or AT&T (non iPhone) to the list.)

    Activation from home is a new feature that you’re free to skip. “Adding Layers of Complexity” is disinginuous. So is comparing upgrading to a different phone on an old account. Shame on you…

  10. MickeyMoo says:

    I recently switched accounts on T-Mo. Their computers were down – so I had to make small talk with Doogie Houser CS for 45 minutes while he rebooted his computer over and over – and in the end he had to write everything down on a slip of paper and send it to another department which created my account and e-mailed me 2 days later to confirm. The terms of service weren’t even in the e-mail as promised. That to me seems a moronic way to activate a phone.

  11. Chris H says:

    @trai_dep: In fact, you can go to a Tmobile or Cingular store, buy a prepaid SIM, and stick it into any unlocked GSM phone and use it without “activation.” You’re confusing phone “activiation” (which isn’t even necessary unless made so by companies like Apple) and service initiation. Most phones in the world are agnostic. They don’t need “activiation.” Stick in a SIM, and they work.

    Now, most consumers in the US have a phone that is tethered to a specific carrier; in the case of Apple, this is *locked,* whereas with other companies, one can buy a SIM and use any phone they’d like. This is very anti-consumer. It’s like having to buy an earthlink computer in order to dialup on earthlink.net!

    If you think about it, it’s similar to how landlines worked pre-Carterphone (when you *had* to rent a phone from the carrier). It doesn’t make any sense to follow that model, and once it was reversed, consumer devices flourished for the landline. The answering machine, for instance, was made possible.

  12. LatherRinseRepeat says:


    It’s pretty obvious you wear the Apple knee pads. Don’t let your smugness cloud your reading comprehension. Your comment made very little sense. And it shows you’re not familiar with cell phones.

    The “layers of complexity” I was referring to was in regards to the IMEI validation. The cell phone provider doesn’t need it to make a phone work on the network. If Apple/Cingular took that out of the activation process, JD wouldn’t have experienced the hassle he went through. He could’ve just popped in his existing SIM and start using his iPhone right away.

    New account? JD had previously activated his iPhone under a pre-paid plan. His original iPhone broke and he was given a new one. So technically, he was upgrading to a different phone on an old account, not activating a brand new account. So it was really pointless forcing JD to go through the activation process on an account that he already established. Obviously, you didn’t read the story.

  13. yg17 says:

    @trai_dep: We were in and out of the T-Mobile store within 45 minutes when we opened 4 lines (3 of them were ported from Suckgular). In those 45 minutes, we picked out our phones (which took a bit longer since my mom and dad, who were both getting Samsung T209s, had to debate over who got the blue one and who got the red one), we picked out our plan, and the phones were activated. No upselling, none of that crap. And did I mention the employee who was helping us was brand new and was being walked through everything by his trainer? That usually slows things down too. So with a more experienced sales rep, we might’ve been done in 30 minutes. Please don’t equate your experiences with Verizon (who’s known to be extremely incompetent) with other carriers.

  14. Trai_Dep says:

    Considering that none of the GSM phone companies deigned to work with Apple to make the necessary backend changes that Apple demanded to move the user experience level up to their standards, I don’t see how it’s Apple’s fault.

    If you like SIM cards (I love the concept, wish they all were like that), blame your company for not working to make their system good enough to meet Apple’s standards. Until then, it’s an apple/orange comparison. Just because my laptop is easier to set up in a cafe don’t make it better than my desktop CPU. Just different.

    The big picture: Compare cell phone companies’ customer satisfaction ratings to Apple’s. Notice that HUGE gulf in Apple’s favor? Similarly chart customer antagonism to cell companies to Apple’s. Same thing. That’s the meta picture.

    And we’re hostile as Hell to companies that don’t deliver. Apple does. But we’re adult enough to only blame a company for something that’s within their control.

  15. Chris H says:

    @trai_dep: But if we believe that competition can protect consumers…this argument makes no sense. Why not open the iphone up to all carriers, and let them compete to offer the best back-end services? Some carriers have special infrastructure for services like push to talk that AT&T will never support, for instance.

    The other issue here is that product activation eliminates anonymity. One of the most excellent things about SIMs is that one can buy and use a phone anonymously with it. Activation hardens an identity link between the phone, carrier, and individual. Of course, AT&T, with it’s complicity with NSA, probably likes eliminating anonymity.

  16. Trai_Dep says:

    Do you really think that Apple was the one pushing exclusivity? Why? It limits their market substantially. They sell boxes.

    I agree with all you’re saying, I’m just pointing out that since the telecoms have a quasi-monopolistic stranglehold on the US spectrum, Apple needed to agree to the cell companies’ anti-competitive, market-limiting, technologically stunted demands. You’re blaming the victim.

    Hopefully that chunk of spectrum that Google is bidding on, and wants to use it for open-standard use, will allow Apple (and many, many others) to avoid being mugged by the evil telecom companies.

  17. Skeptical_Geezer says:

    Bla, bla, bla

  18. citorenoir1 says:

    As popular as the iPhone is, it was still originally a $600 phone. This isn’t an anti-consumerist gimmic, silly skeptics, they were testing the waters to see if the fish were going to bite.

    For instance the Playstation 3 was also $600 and kinda flopped (compared to Nintendo Wii or XBOX 360) because it was simply more than people wanted to pay for that kind of product. The phone companies were probably a little hesitant to buy a bunch of phones that they would end up putting on sale a minute later (which is exactly what has happened by the way with the iPhone….its only been 3 months and the thing is already $200 less even when you buy at full retail price directly from the Apple Store)

    Apple is no dummy either. They probably wanted to see how many people would actually be dumb enough to pay $600 for a phone too so they only produced enough to really sell to one service provider. How much do you want to bet the other service providers will have access to these phones in less than a year from now? Or how about when the software to upgrade your iPhone comes out, all the service providers will be making you offers for service? I’m not really a gambling kind of lady but I’d even put my life savings on this one.

    There’s no anti-consumer conspiracy, just two companies trying to (wisely) provide something that people want so they can make money (like you, me, and everyone under the sun).