John Paczkowski

Recent Posts by John Paczkowski

iPhone. It Just Works … Eventually

Typically, cellphone activation is a tiresome process–an hour-long misery of paperwork, credit checks and SIM-card queries peppered with pitches for insurance and accessories you neither want nor need. So when Apple said iPhone activation would be handled through iTunes, without the intervention of an AT&T store Tri-Lam, it was viewed as another design triumph–a radical transforming of the consumer purchasing experience.

In theory, anyway. In practice, things turned out a bit differently. Hours after the iPhone arrived at market, Apple’s and AT&T’s discussion boards lit up with complaints from frustrated customers who’d run afoul of the new activation process, which was quickly overwhelmed by the sheer volume of activation requests.

I was one of them. I purchased my phone at about 8 p.m. PDT Friday and attempted to activate it about an hour later, only to receive a “Your activation requires additional time to complete” message from AT&T. Which was a disappointment because without activation, the iPhone is useless for everything but emergency calls and playing “Itsy Bitsy Spider.” I checked email for a follow-up message from AT&T a few hours later. Nothing. I went to bed, figuring I’d find it in my inbox the following morning. Thing is, when I checked email the next day, there was no message. Worse, service to my old cellphone had been cut off. I called AT&T and after an hour or so on hold managed to get through to someone who promised to expedite my activation.

Lot of good that did. Long story short, I was without cell service until early last evening (and I was one of many). Now, granted, I was porting a number over from another provider. But 40-plus hours is a longish time to wait for activation.

That said, market researchers from PiperJaffray estimate that Apple sold a half-million iPhones between 6 p.m. Friday and 6 p.m. yesterday. So there were bound to be a few glitches, right? “The iPhone is undoubtedly the biggest thing to ever happen to a cellular industry,” an AT&T employee wrote in a post to Apple’s support forums. “Last night, hundreds of thousands of people purchased iPhones at the exact same time, rushed home and tried to activate their phones asap. What happened was a massive bombarding of activations to switches that generally don’t handle anything near last night’s load. Since the phones were sold at 6 p.m., everyone got home at about 7 p.m. and most likely overloaded the switches to the point of near exhaustion! It would be like 30,000 or so people throwing basketballs at one hoop and hoping to make it in! Theoretically, larger metropolitan areas would have more problems due to more switch activity. Granted, our switches in New York City are heavy duty, but there are no switches in existence designed to handle that kind of load, because with the exception of this weekend, there would never be that much activity.”


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I think the NSA has a job to do and we need the NSA. But as (physicist) Robert Oppenheimer said, “When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and argue about what to do about it only after you’ve had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb.”

— Phil Zimmerman, PGP inventor and Silent Circle co-founder, in an interview with Om Malik