More on AT&T Messing Up iPhone Launch (and Lying About It Too!)

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There were enough AT&T-induced problems with the iPhone launch for it to be mentioned in the news summary on the first page of the Wall Street Journal’s website, in “Some iPhones Are Stuck on Hold,” which means it will likely be on the front page of the print edition.

We reported on “AT&T Screws Up Apple iPhone Launch” over the weekend, noting both activation problems and poor traffic handling and customer service in AT&T stores (by contrast, Apple went to great lengths to make sure buyers at the Apple stores were sold devices as quickly as possible, given update on queue progress, and cheered as they departed the store).

The article reports only on the activation problems and cites AT&T’s claim that only 2% of the iPhone buyers were affected. That’s completely at odds with reports on multiple blogs and on our Apple loyalist friends’ experiences. Delays in activation were pervasive Friday evening and continued over the weekend for users who were porting numbers from other services. Our limited sample (three buddies) all had horrid experiences: all had over 24 hour delays, and one of them was not even transferring a phone number.

If you believe AT&T’s “only 2% had problems” assertion, the odds that the only three people I knew buying iPhones would all have trouble are 1 in 125,000. How credible is that? Slashdot comes up with vastly higher estimates of activation problems (50%) and more gory details about what went wrong:

Thomas Hawk writes

Unfortunately it appears that some activations of Apple’s new iPhone have gone badly. After waiting in line 36 hours I’m still unable to activate my phone. I’m documenting the AT&T circus call by call on my blog. I’ve had my hold calls dropped, been patched into other users unable to activate their phone instead of AT&T customer service reps, been told that my wife must get a new phone and that the family plan can’t work for me. I’ve been told that the problem is that I’m not putting a new chip into my iPhone in the slot on the left side of my phone when no slot there exists. PR Blogger Steve Rubel has also been documenting his problems on his Twitterstream. According to an unscientific poll being conducted by Engadget about half of the people who bought iPhones have had activation trouble with about 38% of problems still unresolved.

Even the folks at MacWorld weren’t immune to these issues.

I strongly encourage you to click through on the links above to ready how hellish this is. The activation problems have spawned a new nickname for the phone: the iBrick.

The geeks expect to have a hack to unlock the iPhone within 24 hours (f you are hardcore, go here). So those who are technically inclined can avoid the AT&T purgatory.

From the Wall Street Journal:

AT&T Inc. said it was working to resolve problems preventing some buyers of Apple Inc.’s iPhone from activating the device, illustrating the complexities Apple faces in working with a partner and in offering a consumer product that plugs into a cellular network.

The hiccup for one of the most eagerly awaited electronics products in years affected about 2% of those who purchased an iPhone, according to a person familiar with the situation. Phone activation also activates the iPhone’s other features, such as playing music or movies and Web surfing.

The problems likely would have to linger or broaden to blunt the overall impact of the iPhone for the two companies. Neither disclosed sales, although industry observers — citing crowded stores, media buzz and strong consumer interest — expect the new product to be a strong seller. Apple developed the iPhone device and its software, and AT&T has an exclusive, multiyear contract with Apple to provide cellular service for the device.

In blog postings and emails to The Wall Street Journal, some consumers who lined up at Apple and AT&T stores complained of problems and delays as they tried to get the phone running via Apple’s iTunes computer software.

Some AT&T customers said their existing cellphones had been deactivated while they were still waiting for their iPhone to be activated, leaving them without any working phone.

AT&T spokesman Michael Coe said the vast majority of iPhone buyers were able to activate the device “within minutes.” He added, “We’re working to get those problems resolved. It’s getting better and better.”

“There are a small percentage of iPhone customers who have had a less-than-perfect activation experience,” Apple spokeswoman Natalie Kerris said. “We’re working hard to resolve any issues quickly.”

Sheer volume appeared to cause general delays in AT&T’s sign-up process, but there were some more specific problems. Some people who tried to port their numbers from rival carriers such as Verizon Wireless and T-Mobile USA got error messages and had to go through hours of customer support calls to fix the problem.

Some existing AT&T subscribers with business accounts said that, after hours of unsuccessfully trying to activate their iPhones, they found out belatedly that they would have to start entirely new personal accounts to use it.

Jared Gurfein, president of spirits company Viridian Spirits LLC, bought his iPhone at an Apple store Friday evening on New York’s Long Island, Nassau County, N.Y., but hasn’t been able to use the device since then. When he attempted to activate service with the iPhone online through iTunes, AT&T immediately stopped voice and email service for his existing BlackBerry phone, but Mr. Gurfein said the iPhone still wouldn’t working, leaving him without a working cellphone. Mr. Gurfein said he had spent several hours on the phone with AT&T and Apple customer support representatives, to no avail.”Both sides were passing the problem onto the other,” he said.

“I’m at the point of frustration where, as much as I’d like to get the device to work, I’d just like to get my BlackBerry working again.” The problems for Jaci Russo, senior partner at the Russo Group, an advertising agency in Lafayette, Louisiana, also began when she attempted to switch to an iPhone she purchased Friday night from a BlackBerry she already had through AT&T. During the process, she received a message through iTunes that said her iPhone couldn’t be activated because she had a business, not a personal, account with AT&T.

In an email Sunday evening, Mr. Gurfein said he reached a successful resolution to his iPhone problems. After more than 45 hours without his cellphone, he said an AT&T representative successfully activated his iPhone and gave him a $150 credit as a concession.

In the meantime, Ms. Russo lost voice and email service from her BlackBerry, until she finally got service through her iPhone turned on Saturday night after lengthy customer support calls to AT&T. There are still problems with service: Ms. Russo said two out of three phone calls she had received on her iPhone by Sunday, including one with a reporter, dropped out in mid-conversation. Calls to her iPhone number were answered by an automated message saying the phone number wasn’t in service, before the phone began working again.

“I can’t have that for work,” she said. “My clients will freak out.” She added, “IPhone is still a great thing, but it appears the service doesn’t live up to the equipment.”

The sign-up problems weren’t the only glitch for AT&T in the iPhone launch. On Friday, its in-store sales systems temporarily stalled in areas up and down the East Coast because of an overload of activity.

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One comment

  1. Anonymous

    tool? :P ur correct, sir!

    let the ‘doesn’t suck’ consumer revolution commence,

    “[AT&T] just got probably half a million new two-year contracts in three days. Now I don’t know what AT&T’s usual acquisition numbers are like, but I have to think there are some big smiles in the boardroom right about now.

    “And that’s amusing because AT&T has almost nothing to be happy about. Those smiling executives are probably already starting to convince themselves that they’re responsible in some way for this success. That sentiment is about as well founded as the power company patting itself on the back as big-screen TVs fly off the shelves. I can only imagine what value AT&T thinks it has brought to the iPhone table. I suppose “bending to Apple’s will enough to keep the iPhone from sucking” is some sort of achievement, but truth be told, the telcos would have been better off had they conspired to ignore Apple entirely.

    “Apple needed one thing in order to get the iPhone off the ground: a carrier. The carriers needed about eighty-billion things to even come close to producing something like the iPhone, not the least of which was the ability to clearly see how awful their existing offerings were. Apple got its carrier, and the carriers got precious little beyond that moment of clarity. Sure, short term, AT&T gets a big bump in contracts. But long term, the carriers will get to sit back and watch as Apple absorbs every remaining shred of value in the market.

    “When Apple’s deal with AT&T expires, assuming the iPhone brand is even half as well established as the iPod, how do you think those negotiations will go?”

    i’d also look out for what google might be up to in the (wireless) carrier space; so far on the fibre end it’s been mostly for their own backbone traffic, but supposedly they’re in the market for spectrum as well,


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