My iPhone 4 Tale of Woe

| Analysis

I picked up my iPhone 4 yesterday at the AT&T store. It had to be AT&T because of a complicated plan that included upgrading to a family plan, giving my wife the 3GS, and porting two numbers over from T-Mobile. I planned thoroughly for this. But what I didn’t expect jumped up to bite me big time, , and my iPhone 4 is now almost useless.

I couldn’t pre-order my iPhone 4 and pick it up at an Apple retail store because of all the complications. Thanks to my new 3G Microcell, it became practical to dump T-Mobile. T-Mobile (and Sprint) provide the only usable wireless signal out in the country where I live.

So my wife and I decided that she’d finally dump her Moto RIZR, inherit my 3GS on a family plan, and we’d port our T-Mobile numbers over to AT&T. It wasn’t too bad, it only took two hours to do all that in the AT&T store. I would have gone faster if I’d realized that we were adding a second AT&T line in the family plan and that requires a credit check.

Unfortunately, I’d forgotten that I have a credit check lock via Equifax, and I didn’t have my password with me. Fortunately, Equifax asked me enough personal questions to verify my identity and unlock the credit check block. But it did chew up almost 30 minutes. Meanwhile, other customers in the store jumped in ahead of me, and I had to continue working with a different AT&T sales rep. I’m not complaining about AT&T sales people, however. They were terrific.

While one sales rep, Melissa, was taking care of my porting, I mentioned to the store manager in Lone Tree, Colorado that TMO had written about the free 3G Microcells AT&T was giving out for customer retention. I lamented that I paid for mine the first week it came out.

“No problem,” David said, and promptly credited me for the full US$150 that I paid for the Microcell. I won’t have to pay an AT&T phone bill for two months.

I was very pleased with Erica, Melissa and David. They’re great people and very knowledgeable. Kudos. The long time spent in the store was simply administrative: Equifax delay, porting two T-Mobile numbers, buying AppleCare, perusing iPhone cases, and getting the Microcell credit.

The Big Gotcha

Little did I expect, however, that when I got home, my iPhone 4 would be almost useless.

That’s because I needed to log into my 3G Microcell account and authorize two new numbers. However, because I changed my iPhone number, ported over from T-Mobile remember? my management account was gone. It didn’t recognize the old mobile number; that one was extinguished. And AT&T’s Microcell management site didn’t recognize my new mobile number either.

It’s as if AT&Ts website developers never expected a 3G Microcell customer to change the wireless number. I called the 3G Microcell support people late Tuesday night and spent an hour with a wonderful fellow named “Johannes” (in Seattle). He did his mighty best to fix my account access, but could not. He ended up writing a ticket to request that my 3G Microcell management account now be linked and authorized to the new number.

Unfortunately, he said it might take four or five days. AT&T will call me on my land line when they’ve fixed it all up. Meanwhile, my unlocked T-Mobile iPhone 1 is disabled because my T-Mobile account is terminated, and I can’t make or receive calls on the iPhone 4: no Microcell. That is, unless I leave the house, walk up the hill 500 meters, and get a usable signal.

Sometimes, no matter what you do to plan ahead, the technology gods will bite you.

AT&T takes a lot of crap, but this team at Lone Tree, Colorado has been terrific to me. Too bad the AT&T webmasters didn’t plan for a situation like mine. I’ll report back when all’s well.

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So, to log into the 3G Microcell you have to use your AT&T user id and password?

I thought it’d be like a router….

John Martellaro

No.  For security purposes, you cannot log onto the Microcell directly.  You have to manage it via the web by logging onto your account with a browser, then the AT&T servers configure the Microcell remotely.

Bosco (Brad Hutchings)

You’ll find that all the frontline people at AT&T are friendly, knowledgeable, and creative. But ultimately powerless. I lost two Nevada numbers porting a family plan from Sprint because an AT&T family plan can’t straddle their old market region system. On that end, I wish I’d waited 10 months and got an HTC Evo from Sprint. The N1 that replaced my 3GS is a cool phone though, and I’ll probably just ride out my AT&T contract on it (or a future unlocked GSM Android phone).

Good luck to you John! The exclusivity of iPhone to AT&T is what makes these clusterfuntimes so likely. Stuff we should all be skeptical about in the future…


Sign up for Google Voice (for free), tell everyone you got a new number, have it forward to your home (for now), and once your iPhone is up and running forward it to that. Yes, I agree, this is an IMMENSE amount of work initially, and a pain in the @$$ to use with iOS. However, after I dealt with it, the knowledge that I am no longer reliant on any particular telecom company is extremely comforting since stuff like this always happens.


Interesting story, but I would not call it an “iPhone 4 Tale of Woe,” but then an article titled “My AT&T Microcell Tale of Woe” wouldn’t garner so many hits. I know I wouldn’t have bothered loading it. I believe this is what they call Link Bait.

Gary Bibby

agreeing with iphonezie there…


I called the 3G Microcell support people late Tuesday night and spent an hour with a wonderful fellow named ?Johannes? (in Seattle)


Lucky you John, some of us in the rest of the world talk to someone in India or a South Sea island when we need to hear a friendly telco voice.

Isn’t “AT&T” and “crap” in the same sentence a line from a movie? Crazy People, I think.


Hah!  Very clever, grasshopper!

You write a flattering article on the high quality AT&T support you’ve received so far.

Not a bad move.

May the God of AT&T Support smile upon you, your family, and your yet, unborn descendants for generations to come.


Sounds like a lot of problems that the author brought on himself. They tried to make everything right for him. And he gets home finds out that through his own actions the phone doesn’t work. SO then he rights an article with a title meant to grab readers. But at the same time makes chumps out of the work the people did trying to make him happy.
There’s a word for this: ingrate.
Should the author write an article about his experiences? Yes. Should he make AT&T or anyone else out to be at fault here; absolutely not.


I hate phones and hate mobile phones even more, so am no friend of the iPhone 4 (or any other iPhone, Mototolla, Nokia, or whatever), but the title of this article seems unfair to the iPhone 4. Reading your tale of woe, it seems that your problems had nothing to do with the iPhone 4 and everything with the way your accounts were set up.

Still, I’m glad I don’t use a mobile phone.

The Skeptic


Spot on.  Correct article title: “My overly complicated cell-phone switch”

Life without a mobile phone… it’s nice when you treat the people in front of you with a higher priority than some conversation gazumper who rings through on your latest cancer inducing toy whilst you are ordering a coffee at the local store…

Got to go now… I’m trying to SMS my friend, whilst writing to you and reading to my kid….


If someone sold me a product that looked like a wireless router, I’d probably expect to be able to administer it the same way and be surprised when I couldn’t.


I’m in the similar situation with John. I get no AT&T signal at home. (AT&T stopped the service from full bars to none suddenly 2 months after I bought my first iPhone) So me & my wife are now using iPhone 3GS thru T-mobile. What would be the best way if I want to use iPhone 4 without experiencing the crap that John went thru?  I would appreciate any advice. Thank you.

John Martellaro

4evr0:  I would, before porting the old number over, add it to the authorized list in the Microcell management page.  I should have done that.

Then when the number is ported, ask AT&T Microcell support to update your access.  But, in the meantime, the Microcell will allow your new ported number to work.

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