The TracFone Activation Saga

My family bought a TracFone prepaid phone as a Christmas gift for my Grandmother. I got the fun job of activating it. Most of these prepaid phones are self-activated using the carrier’s web site, and TracFone is no exception.

Christmas Day, around 1:00pm: Installed the SIM card and battery into the phone, a Nokia 1100. TracFone must be using a GSM network. Maybe Cingular’s? Anyhow… Went upstairs to the parents’ computer, and went to the TracFone web site to attempt to activate the phone. Nope… TracFone has every URL within their entire web site redirected to a message to the effect of “Sorry you schmuck, we’re too busy to even serve your HTTP request right now, let alone activate your phone.” Tried again around 4:30…. same deal.

Christmas Night, around 10:15pm: Decided to try again. Now, the phone won’t power up. It seems to be completely dead. Removed SIM card, tried again. This time it powered up and asked for a SIM card. Reinstalled SIM card, and it seemed happy at that point. Hmmm, not too sure about this phone now. Oh well, let’s try activating. Hey! The TracFone site seems to be working now. It prompted me for a couple of long numbers (SIM, ESN, whatever) and a zip code. Then it prompted me for an airtime PIN, which I dutifully entered. Then I get “Sorry, we’re unable to process your request at this time.” Mouthed a few expletives and gave up for the night. Not terribly impressed with the TracFone activation process at this point.

Day after Christmas, around 6:45am: Phone is dead again. Didn’t initially respond to last night’s trick of removing and reinstalling SIM card. Wondering if the phone is defective. Eventually it decided to power up. Great! Nothing like reliable technology. Tried to activate it again. This time it worked! I was able to program the phone using the instructions on the web site, and it assigned me a phone number. Ten minutes later or so, the phone power-cycled, and immediately thereafter I received a text message confirming the activation. I’m assuming the power cycle was a result of the activation process, and not the phone being flaky.

Anyhow, I haven’t tried placing a call yet, but it appears to be working now. Jury is still out on the phone itself, though. I think we’ll hang onto it for a few days to make sure it continues working. The powerup issues could have been a result of the phone not being programmed/activated. I guess we’ll see.

Followup – well, immediately after writing the above, I went upstairs to find that the phone had switched itself off and would not power back up. I’m officially calling it defective. Moral of the story: Don’t buy “reconditioned” mobile phones. I’ll let someone else handle the fun job of calling tech support and spending eternity on hold. My job here is done 🙂