Can’t Activate Your iPhone 4S on AT&T? Try These Tips

Can’t Activate Your iPhone 4S on AT&T? Try These Tips

US carriers — specifically AT&T — have been buckling under the weight of hundreds of thousands iPhone 4S activation requests today. Since the 4S went on sale worldwide this morning, many customers have been trying to activate Apple’s newest handset to no avail.

While Sprint and Verizon activations seem to being going smoothly, AT&T has been failing all day.

If you can’t activate your iPhone 4S on AT&T, we’ve got a few tips to help get your 4S up and running.

Try to Activate in iTunes

With iOS 5, Apple lets users do the initial setup for the iPhone on the device itself. You should be able to theoretically setup and activate the 4S without plugging into a computer.

If you’ve been getting the “Could Not Activate iPhone” error all day, then try activating the good old fashioned way in iTunes. Plug your iPhone 4S into your computer and follow the activation instructions in iTunes. There’s a good chance that you’ll still get an error, but it’s worth a shot. If you activation request does fail, you’ll get a message saying that your request is “pending” and that AT&T will send you an email when you’re good to go.

Call the Hotline

Calling AT&T’s customer support hotline could give you some results in your quest to activate the iPhone 4S. Dial “611’ from a working phone and ask to speak to a rep (option “0’).

Have the rep activate your new iPhone manually over the phone. I called AT&T earlier and had to give them my device’s IMEI and ICCID (SIM) number. Both of these numbers can be found on the little label on the back of your iPhone 4S box.

In my case, the rep confirmed that AT&Ts system had activated my iPhone 4S by dialing my number. I was talking with the rep from my old iPhone, but the rep said that the call he placed to my number went straight to voicemail, indicating that my 4S had been successfully activated by AT&T. I’m not sure how that works, considering that fact that I was talking to the rep on my cell number, but I guess I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt.

The rep I talked to said that Apple’s servers have been causing a lot of trouble with activations today as well. He advised me to wait for a hour or so and setup the iPhone again later. I’m now on my 12th try.

Throughout the call, the rep kept enforcing that AT&T was experiencing “very heavy” traffic today that was making his system lag. He had to re-enter my information multiple times. Those folks at AT&T need to get on the ball. After the iPhone 4S pre-order mess, this is just getting embarrassing.

Wait it Out

It’s not the end of the world if your iPhone 4S doesn’t activate immediately, so wait it out if nothing else works. Go for a walk. Go exercise. Watch some TV. Kiss your wife. You’ll be able to activate soon enough.

Let us know about your experience activating the iPhone 4S on AT&T today. Have you finally been able to activate? What do you do to make it work?

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  • Speedboattoheaven

    I do not have a wife. :(

  • Mockito

    How can I do anything without an IPhone? Go for a walk? Need an IPhone to show me the way…. Go exercise… need my IPhone to listen to my tunes while on the treadmill. Watch some TV… I usually do that on my IPhone. Kiss my wife… My wife left me when she found out about Siri…

  • jim

    still nothing after almost 7 hours

  • Kevin Lambert

    I do not have a wife, either, nor a husband.  I cannot activate.  I’m sad.  So I can kiss my dreams goodbye and try later. Or tomorrow.

  • robpickering

    You can also just go to an AT&T store.  They’re using non-public activation servers and activated my phone in about 15 seconds, 2 hours ago.

  • Mike

    Just have voice mail now. 2 iPhones and i have voice mail

  • Bobyey

    mine finally went through after 5 hours of trying. Just one random time it worked

  • iBeer

    After trying to activate for over an hour I did some digging. Someone on cnet recommended turning my old phone off first. Having nothing to loose, I gave it a shot. It worked!!! Good luck.

  • Bobyey

    I tried calling Apple…..no luck….. the guy knew less then I did about the issue. Tried calling AT&T……no luck….. after 14 minutes on the phone……called failed……awesome…Then on the next try it went through and worked.

    EDIT: I still have not received an email, but I am up and running with my new phone!

  • Robert A

    I am on the same boat for about 6 hours now.  I think the biggest mistake I made was calling AT&T.  They updated my account with the IMEI and ICCID numbers from the new iphone 4s and removed the ones from my (now broken) iphone 4.  The rep. said it was just a matter of time now that she had done this and my activation was in queue.   The message I am getting now is that the SIM card # in my phone does not match the SIM card # on my account.  It appears the apple servers are expecting the previous SIM card #  and are supposed to refresh my SIM card # with the newly captured one from AT&T.  That hasn’t happened yet. I don’t know even know if it will.  I no longer have my old sim card.  I think I am royally screwed.

    So much for pre-ordering this expensive brick….

  • rp

    Email never made it, but was able to activate a few hours later by detaching and reattaching.  only took twice about 4 hrs later… hope this helps…

  • Vomer6

    5 + hours on hold twice with apple and over 60 min with att tech apple 2+ hours still on hold
    They are unable to fix it just maybe get an email in a few hours???

  • Steve

    after about 1 1/2 hours mine activated

  • Vomer6

    6 hour mark I am ready to dig up Steve Jobs and give it back to him

  • tetmelon

    I turned off my old phone and activated through iTunes, and it worked the 1st time. awesome

  • Mike

    Just got through on iTunes! 

  • Guest

    tried mine on itunes first then several times by phone. worked after about an hour. using wifi should help if you’re using your cell

  • Olicoop

    I drove to an AT&T store and they told me that because I ordered it from Apple.com, they couldn’t activate it for me…WTF? This was a corporate store and not an “authorized reseller”.

  • Olicoop

    I plugged mine into iTunes and restored it from a backup of my old iPhone and it didn’t give me an activation screen or anything, but put all my apps, pics, bookmarks, music, etc. onto the new phone. I can’t seem to even get the activation screen to pop up. I went to an AT&T store, but they told me that because I bought it from Apple, they couldn’t activate it for me… :(
    So, now I have an iPod touch with Siri…

  • chicagobrian

    I didn’t have any problems setting it up w/ AT&T, but now Siri’s network is down.  Worked today, but now she is telling me she is having trouble connecting to the network

  • Jackm79

    UPS delivered my 4S just after 9:00 this morning. Ten and a half hours later, I’m still not conversing with my phone. Spent 3 hours in 2 AT&T stores getting the run around and another hour in the Apple Store with an AT&T rep. All they can tell me is “Keep trying, eventually the phone will activate.”. Thanks numb nuts!!!

  • no iPhone

    spent over 2 1/2 hours in an AT&T store, over an hour on the phone with AT&T, and another hour at an Apple store.  Still have two non-working iPhone 4S.  If I’d not stayed up to order one from Apple and just showed up at my local AT&T store or Apple store today, I could have walked out with a working phone in about five minutes.  Go figure.  My congratulations to all of you who just woke up this morning, decided to get an iPhone 4S, and walked out of the store ten minutes later with all the new features.

  • Brandon Dillon

    Because you bought it from Apple? What a sorry company..

  • Larry

    I googled how to activate my ATT iPhone 4S after waiting hours.  I tried plugging it into iTunes and it activated!  And I did a restore and Im up and running.  Thanks for the tip!

  • Londonj

    Terrible experience. I have waited 4 hours thus far for my email, have tried activating many times. Called ATT. No luck. Amateur hour. Why are they always surprised that they sell a lot of iphones?

  • Concerned

    I don’t know either. Thankfully I dumped AT&T back when the 4 came to Verizon and haven’t looked back since.

  • Ishtar

    I’ve  been waiting for almost 9 hours now.  Talked ATT and Apple and ATT and Apple and ATT again. They said it will take at least 24 hours to activate!  Problem is … I”m getting a slightly different message.  Anyone else getting the “is not recognized and cannot be activated for service” message?  I get i whether I try to activate over the cell network or iTunes.  I can’t even connect to wifi.  YIKES!!!

  • Chris Killen

    Went to http://www.att.com/activation and it took 3 minutes to activate my phone. What’s the hold up with everyone else? I don’t understand.

  • Davidlevang

    my wife’s phone activated within minutes, but mine still won’t connect.  I can’t call.  I can search the web and use siri though.  maybe I’ll wait until tomorrow.

  • Mv6187

    It let me into the phone to use apps but even though it shows 4 bars of 3G ATT service, no cellular connection for anything.  “activated” it at 3pm PST

  • Levitate5

    Been waiting 12+ hours. Not a big deal except that as soon as I activated the iPhone 4s, ATT cut off my old phone so now I have no phone and have 30+ people expecting to reach me at 630 for instruction on how to proceed for our 5k race today. Have had good luck with ATT until now. And they wonder why apple wants to drop them.

  • Mcoop35

    About 18 hours here and still nothing. I can’t believe a company as big as ATT cannot handle traffic like this. Maybe they should consider an upgrade of their own. I’m sure I’ll be arguing against the 18 dollar activation fee.

  • Netch88

    can’t activate either.  It’s saying a different thing though “sim card does not match the one on your account”? but I use it on my old iPhone, it does work.  i have 3g signal but still couldn’t activate! sucks!

  • IBI200

    I did a crossover upgrade and eventhough I updated the IMEI and sim info by calling AT&T the wrong phone number was showing up and I was gettin the same sim does not match error. I was able to fix this by placing the working sim card of the number that’s showing up on your phone during the activation process regardless of what has been changed as long as the working sim associated with the phone number showing up during the activation process is in the phone it will activate. Then I just restored from back up and put my own sim card back in.

  • Betsy Ross55

    26 hours and still nothing.  ATT PROMISED to call back … 2 hours ago … and I’ve heard nothing.  On the phone will Apple so long I went thru 4 hand set batteries before finally getting disconnected.  Now I can’t even get thru to a person.

    I think I’ll get a droid

  • iMike

    Call AT&T and tell them you wish to do a “cold transfer”,which is beyond the capabilities of their first tier customer service reps, so they will need to transfer you. Be prepared to sit on hold for roughly 30 minutes. Have your 4S  IMEI and SIM card (aka ICCID) number ready ,which you read off the settings->general -> about page. This will finally get it working. DO not allow them to tell you that it is an Apple server problem and try to transfer you to apple support — that is BS so you need to INSIST that you want at&t to do a cold transfer.

  • Jason Luckey

    How do you activate via iTunes if you’ve already got the phone connected to iTunes and you can use the phone via Wifi? I mean, there’s nothing about that!!!

  • Betsy Ross55

    Thanks iMike!  

    Turns out its a hardware problem.  But at this point I’ve been arguing on the phone so long I’m throwing in the towel  … until tomorrow. 

    Guess I’ll try my luck at the Apple store

  • Trublu61

    I’ve been waiting 9 hours for activation, now I’m on hold for at&t  customer service.

  • Pat

    Got phone delivered via UPS on 8:30AMFri. Tried 2 activate via instructions on actual phone, no luck. Took to Att Phone Store, who used same process on phone, no luck. Took break from phone on Sat, then tried 2activate again, via phone Sat nite & Sun Am. Called ATT Support (611) Sun afternoon & gave them phone IMEI & Serial #’s listed on back of phone’s box. also gave them ICCID # (on back of phone box or under Settings, then General). Got a message on my phone that IMEI # didn’t match, but ATT Support then told me to continue process by plugging phone into our computer, bringing up iTunes, then re-trying to activate phone by following instructions on iTunes & repeating activation process (same activation questions that were shown on my phone). This all took bout 10 min, but finally got message that phone was activated!!! Continued w/this old fashioned sync via ITunes pro by clicking to restore data from my old 3GS iPhone . All data restoered except my apps, so did a separate sync just for apps. My phone number finally popped up on the iTunes screen, signaling iTunes recognized the activation & transfer of my tel# & data from my 3GS to my new 4Siphone. Hooray!!! Only took about 68 hrs ofvwaiting, I luv my new phone, but will never Pre order again. I’ll just wait a few wks, then buy the phone from the phone store & let them activate after the new phone frenzy is over!

  • Kevin Black

    this is why i love verizon u all should have left att asap :P

  • twitter-45488935

    I am waiting for AT&T to activate my iPhone 4S, they say it takes up to 4 hours and it’s about to hit that mark… I didn’t even preorder, they need to get their game together

  • Humberto

    I could finally activate it. The guy at ATT told me I had to call a number to accept their terms and conditions. It was as easy as dialing 1 for accepting. New phone was instantaneously activated.

  • rachelsmith

    I’m having this problem too! 

  • Kalin !

    how can put my number into to my new iphone? i have a blackberry AT&T

  • Vjai Chourasia

    please can anyone help me with the error i am getting with jaibreaking my iphone 4s which is AT&T network lock and currently i dont have the sim card
    >>the attached device is not activated. you need to activate it b

  • Jonathan Rene

    my advice is to just not jailbreak it. if ur iphone is locked to at&t then all u need is a at&t sim card. the sim card doesn’t have to be active just as long as its from at&t and it can fit in ur sim tray. u can buy an unactive sim on ebay or u can buy one from the at&t store. just ask for an unactivated sim. and i don’t recommend jailbreaking it. if you jailbreak it, itunes won’t let you restore from ur backing. then u lose all you stuff

About the author

Alex HeathAlex Heath has been a staff writer at Cult of Mac for three years. He is also a co-host of the CultCast. He has been quoted by the likes of the BBC, KRON 4 News, and books like "ICONIC: A Photographic Tribute to Apple Innovation." If you want to pitch a story, share a tip, or just get in touch, additional contact information is available on his personal site. Twitter always works too.

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