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You know that moment when your pilot tells you to sit back and relax?
Well, I'm going to suggest you lean forward and tense yourself.
For this is the tale of a man who thought he had a little problem and then discovered it was far, far larger than he thought.
How did I learn of this story? The main protagonist, my very good friend Bruce -- I've withheld his name, hopefully for obvious reasons -- kept texting me about it. And emailing. And screaming a little. Then a lot.
Bruce's beloved iPhone 14 Pro had stopped connecting with the AT&T network. Just like that. It came back on, then it went off. This happened four times in 30 hours.
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Bruce didn't notice at first. But when he tried browsing in an Uber, nada. Anywhere there wasn't Wi-Fi, nada. So he tried making a call and received the message that his phone no longer had access to the network.
So he contacted AT&T, as one would.
He received immediate promises that the issue would be resolved. And indeed, a nice person from AT&T finally told him that his service had been reactivated and he should try his device again.
The next day, his phone stopped connecting to the network again.
AT&T assured him it would fix it. AT&T claimed it had. The company representative wrote: "Once the issue was fixed, you will never happen this issue again [sic]."
It was then that Bruce learned his phone was on a blacklist but would now be de-blacklisted.
"You will not face any issue further, for sure," wrote AT&T.
I sense you feel there were further issues, or why would this be at all interesting, odd, or even scary?
It happened again, so Bruce contacted Apple.
"Upon further checking on the results," wrote Apple, "It's showing here that there are no problems with your device. I believe this issue needs to be communicated with AT&T."
Apple's customer care added: "As much as I wanted to help, we don't have enough information about how they process and provide network for all smartphones."
And then Bruce's iPhone stopped connecting again. He spent another 2 hours with AT&T on the phone. The conclusion? He should go to an AT&T store.
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In minutes, the store expert unsuspended Bruce's phone.
"When I asked him how," Bruce told me, "He told me it was pretty simple and that often customer care have no idea what they're doing."
Hurrah. End of story.
That very day, it stopped working again.
AT&T told Bruce he needed to contact Apple to tell them his phone wasn't stolen. AT&T customer service said it was clearly Apple's fault.
"The Apple people said that was preposterous," Bruce texted me at the time, via Wi-Fi. "They said it would be unprofessional to call AT&T out, when I offered to go back to the AT&T store so they could all talk together."
By now you'll have calculated that Bruce had spent many, many, many hours trying to get this fixed.
The next day, he texted me: "Well, it looks like the problem is fixed."
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Two hours and 48 minutes later, another text from Bruce: "And my phone is off again."
This had reached the point of sweet absurdity. Bruce had repeatedly told AT&T the phone wasn't stolen, yet here it was being constantly cut off.
Bruce went back to the AT&T store. "The guy just told me that no one at AT&T had removed the erroneous stolen report," Bruce texted me, via Wi-Fi.
Finally, Bruce got someone at Apple to talk to the AT&T store manager. "We never blacklist a phone," the Apple representative told the AT&T man.
Still tense? Well, we're about to have a breakthrough.
"Now, the AT&T guy is saying T-Mobile has blacklisted my phone," Bruce texted me.
"Were you ever with T-Mobile?," I wondered.
"Yes. I switched to AT&T in 2008," Bruce replied.
Apple's customer care representative kept talking to AT&T's store manager. Said Bruce of the Apple representative: "She's not taking any of AT&T's ----. She's really put out with AT&T saying Apple blocks phones."
Next, the Apple representative talked to T-Mobile. It seems that T-Mobile had, indeed, blocked Bruce's IMEI and IMEI2 numbers. Why? Because the company claimed it had an existing customer with those identical numbers. And that customer had reported their phone stolen.
It was apparently, precisely the same phone -- an iPhone 14 Pro, purple, 1TB.
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For those just switching to this channel, Bruce had now spoken to AT&T four times on the phone, he'd been to an AT&T store three times, and had effected two conference calls, one between Apple and AT&T and one between Apple and T-Mobile.
And still his phone didn't connect to the network.
Apple told him it had no policy that would give Bruce a new phone. T-Mobile wanted to see a receipt from Apple for those very IMEI numbers and Apple was insisting those numbers were only assigned to Bruce's phone.
Apple finally told Bruce he had to fix it with the carrier. His former carrier, that is -- T-Mobile.
It was at this point that Bruce threw up his arms in despair. While still texting me. That's quite a feat.
Enter Tim Cook.
Bruce emailed Apple's CEO. This situation seemed so patently nonsensical that there had to be some form of explanation and Cook's occasionally been known to bother reading such missives.
Meanwhile, Bruce decided to go to the biggest Apple store he knew. He had an appointment at 3:30 p.m. It was canceled because the store was suddenly closing early.
By this stage, Bruce was beyond all hope and sentience.
Cook's office got back to him a couple of days later. They explained that Cook was himself a touch confused by Bruce's email, so asked his staff to investigate further.
Bruce revealed Apple's conclusion: "They think my IMEI was cloned and say, if that's the case, I'll have to take it up with the police."
"For now, the phone works, but I suspect that's due to T-Mobile rather than AT&T," Bruce told me.
Apple, though, decided to investigate further.
A couple of days later, the company got back in touch with Bruce. Even though Apple still couldn't be sure what had happened -- although it seemed to have strong suspicions -- it had decided to replace his phone.
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"They said they didn't want to leave me open to the possibility of being knocked off the network again," Bruce told me.
And then he went for a drink.