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100,000 iPhones Overwhelm Activation Server 166

Posted by timothy
from the cap'n-we're-under-attack dept.
dstates writes "What happens when Apple ships 100,000 iPhone 4S in a day? Answer, 100,000 users all try to activate their new phones. AT&T's activation servers are struggling under the load. Apparently Verizon and Sprint are doing a better job keeping up with the load." Adds an anonymous optimist: "The solution? Call AT&T by dialing 611 and talking to an operator to perform a manual activation with your IMEI and SIM card #, works every time!"
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100,000 iPhones Overwhelm Activation Server

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    Call AT&T by dialing 611 and talking to an operator to perform a manual activation

    So now you'll just be overwhelming the meatbag variety of server.

  • by Pieroxy (222434) on Friday October 14, 2011 @07:44PM (#37720146) Homepage

    Surprise of the day: AT&T activation servers work roughly as well as their cell coverage in urban areas.

    Note that if you can't activate your iPhone, you can't drop calls!!!

    • by hedwards (940851)

      I thought the news story was that somebody with AT&T service managed to contact the servers. And not just one person, but enough people to overwhelm the servers. In AT&T's defense, I'm sure they had no idea that any of those people would manage to get online to activate.

  • First it's, "you're holding it wrong," now it's, "you're activating it wrong".

    Can't blame this one on Steve.
    • Sure we can. Clearly, the Reality Distortion Field takes some time to completely dissipate. ~

    • Let's be honest, Samsung only wishes it could overload AT&Ts servers with Nexus S activations.

      • You mean the Galaxy S2? The Nexus S is from December of last year. Also, they don't require the same activation via server that the iPhone does... It's almost like they thought ahead about this.
        • by Wovel (964431)

          YEs they do require the same activation, you just don't notice because despite what you may think no carrier has sold even half that many of any Android phones in a day...One did reach about half in a weekend though. Not sure why you think the carrier doesn't have to activate Android phones.

    • by tverbeek (457094)
      It's not a matter of "you're doing it wrong", it's just the latest iteration of AT&T's systems not being able to handle the load of an insane day-of-release demand. Just like with every iPhone launch day that they've been involved with. There's plenty of blame to go around: throngs of people who have to have something the day it comes out instead of waiting a few days, back-end systems that don't scale properly to meet an anticipatable demand, etc.
      • by tlhIngan (30335)

        It's not a matter of "you're doing it wrong", it's just the latest iteration of AT&T's systems not being able to handle the load of an insane day-of-release demand. Just like with every iPhone launch day that they've been involved with. There's plenty of blame to go around: throngs of people who have to have something the day it comes out instead of waiting a few days, back-end systems that don't scale properly to meet an anticipatable demand, etc.

        Yeah. Except that AT&T has 4 years or experience wit

  • Activated using the dial in number from my old phone.

    It asked me to turn off my new phone for five minutes. I did so.

    I turned it on after 5 minutes to my delight... AT&T 3g

    There was a very short on hold while "Please wait while AT&T activates your phone" had me on hold. But it was maybe 45 seconds.

    Number I called: 866-895-1099

  • by Rosco P. Coltrane (209368) on Friday October 14, 2011 @07:50PM (#37720182)

    "Activating" a cellphone means little less than recovering a few personal details from the new customer, the phone's serial number or equivalent, stuffing everything in a database, working out some magic number based on some algorithm and send it back to the phone. Big deal... I can write an application like that without even being a specialist and not hose a small server with a million requests a day, let alone 100,000...

    • by Dyinobal (1427207)
      ya I was thinking the same thing, unless the bottleneck is the network and not the database server itself. It wouldn't surprise me if at&t had the equivalent of a cup and string in terms of bandwidth to their activation servers.
    • by hawguy (1600213)

      "Activating" a cellphone means little less than recovering a few personal details from the new customer, the phone's serial number or equivalent, stuffing everything in a database, working out some magic number based on some algorithm and send it back to the phone. Big deal... I can write an application like that without even being a specialist and not hose a small server with a million requests a day, let alone 100,000...

      Sure, it's easy to write a standalone server to take requests and put them into your local MySQL database, but you're stuffing it into the same database that the data for 75 million other customers are using and probably traversing several layers of API and who knows how many network hops to get to that database.

      • by sjames (1099)

        That's why things like that should be shoved into a local flat file or database and periodically merged with the big database as a batch job as a back end process.

        It's not like the server load after a new iPhone comes out is a surprise.

    • by davecb (6526) <davec-b@rogers.com> on Friday October 14, 2011 @08:54PM (#37720670) Homepage Journal

      People assume slowdowns are always linear, so they get the wrong answers, and under-provision all the time (;-))

      Assume a really fast activation in 1/10 second, on a machine that's always got 10 CPUs free for the activation jobs. Each CPU will activate 10 phones in 1 second, but if 11 people per CPU request activation, the 11th will wait a full tenth before they start, plus 1/10 second to do the work. The 12th will wait 2/10 plus 1/10 to do the work, and so on.

      100,000 people / 10 CPUs = a load of 10,000 users. Plug that into the queuing equation from which I got the above, and the average time to activate will be 999.1 seconds, or 16 minutes. Not fun!

      The actual case is probably a lot worse, with slow activations and overloaded servers, but any time when you can get a really large number of users trying to do something in a short period of time, the average time to do the work will be scary large. Unless they just happen to be within the first 10 callers, of course!

      That means that you need to temporarily allocate a hugely larger number of resources than you'd expect on first glance. If you and your manager don't already know that the response time curve looks like a hockey stick, you can easily get into a career-limiting situation by under-planning for a predicted overload.

      --dave (wearing his capacity planner hat) c-b

      • by arth1 (260657)

        Assume a really fast activation in 1/10 second, on a machine that's always got 10 CPUs free for the activation jobs. Each CPU will activate 10 phones in 1 second, but if 11 people per CPU request activation, the 11th will wait a full tenth before they start, plus 1/10 second to do the work. The 12th will wait 2/10 plus 1/10 to do the work, and so on.

        No, that does not follow. Your math assumes that the 12 caller will have to wait for the 11th, like the 11th had to wait for one of the ten preceding callers to finish. That's not true. The 12th caller can take the place of any of the preceding callers. He'll be only marginally slower than the 11th caller.

        Unless, of course, someone has locked each registration to a CPU when they enter the queue, but why would anyone do that?
        In reality, registrations won't even be assigned to separate queues ahead of tim

        • by davecb (6526)

          Thanks, I indeed said that wrong! It's actually the 21st. The equation does do it correctly, fortunately (I use qef and jmt, by the way)

          --dave

    • When I signed up to U-Verse I gave them my credit card info and asked for automatic billing. About 3 months later I get a letter in the mail complaining that I hadn't paid for the last 3 months of service. Somehow this is normal for them. It actually takes them a few months to figure out how to bill me automatically and I just missed that note when I signed up. Since then I'm really not surprised when I hear about AT&T's systems not keeping up.
    • Might be some patching involved. Keep in mind you don't control the radio in your phone, they need to be set up to receive updates securely.

      But yea, this is an iPhone story, not a real story.
  • by nweaver (113078) on Friday October 14, 2011 @08:00PM (#37720288) Homepage

    100,000 AT&T activations, out of well over 1M sales!?!?

    If so, most people have heeded the advice: Sprint is cheaper, and Verizon you can make phone calls on.

    • Yep, people would have to be idiots to go with ATT. I'm still with them and the only reason I am is that I'm locked into a 2 year contract. As soon as the contract expires, I'm going to Verizon or Sprint. Just as long as it's NOT ATT.

      • I've never really had problems with AT&T's network here in southern California. From what I've seen, it's noticeably faster than Verizon's 3G (and, with an iPhone, there's no 4G option) and I can probably count the number of dropped calls in two years on one hand.

        That said, I did run into an interesting situation last weekend. I was downloading some data from the Internet using EDGE (test case) when I got back an error basically saying that my Internet connection had gone down. This had never happene

      • It's according to where you live, I guess. I get 1 to 0 bars with Verizon (at home), but get full bars with AT&T. I still hate them, but no other choice.

        No Sprint towers, so the signal is the same as Verizon.

    • by Pokermike (896718)

      Sprint customers can use the Verizon network. So, why use Verizon?

      I confirmed this the hard way while trying to activate my iPhone with Sprint w/o WiFi. I had 3+ bars and couldn't get the damn thing to activate until I accidentally wandered into the 1 cubic foot of space where I could get Sprint's signal.

      • by Bodero (136806)

        Sprint customers can use the Verizon network. So, why use Verizon?

        Sprint can use Verizon for voice and 1x data, but they do not use Verizon's 3G service.

    • by am 2k (217885)

      100,000 AT&T activations, out of well over 1M sales!?!?

      I think the one million sales figure was for international sales, not US only.

      • That's just the people on AT&T who tried to activate today. Some people aren't on AT&T or haven't gotten their phones yet because UPS/FedEx needs a signature and they weren't home.
    • Verizon has one problem: their 3G network is pretty slow. I've got an AT&T 3G iPad and a Verizon Moto Droid, and the speed is noticeably higher on AT&T. Of course, the Droid can actually get data service a lot more places than the AT&T device, but it's a real dilemma.

      If this were the iPhone 5, with LTE data speeds, I'd have pre-ordered and switched. As it is, I'm already used to the way Android does things (i.e., the unpolished bits don't bother me much) and will probably get a Galaxy Nexus or
      • by hedwards (940851)

        Depends where you live. Around here I'd have significant difficulties downloading anything from AT&T via 3G, it would regularly lose connectivity mid transfer and moving to EDGE would be unreliable. I ended up just turning off the 3G because my downloads were a lot faster with EDGE.

    • by mosb1000 (710161)

      Why would you go with AT&T, when you can spend the same amount for service from Verizon?

  • Optus in Australia has this problem too. Almost no one switching from them to another phone provider (and taking their phone number with them), was able to make the switch. Additionally, their website was down almost all yesterday.

    All the other providers seemed to have managed it a lot better.

  • In case anyone thinks that the US has good/solid infrastructure, remember this moment.

    The AT&T network is so poor that it bogs down when a vendor comes out with a popular new phone.

    Now let's see if you can actually make a call while in Manhattan.

    • by Osgeld (1900440)

      "In case anyone thinks that the US has good/solid infrastructure"

      No one thinks that, our internet sucks, ota tv is useless, our power grid fails multiple times a month during both summer and winter, roads are a crumbling joke and bridges and dams are falling apart.

      Then there is the bipartisan government circle jerking for a decade racking up the bribes so GE can sell off our R&D to Brazil, while our kids are taking pieces of the road to chuck at each other cause they are too stupid to not even play in t

  • by PowerMacG4 (575064) on Friday October 14, 2011 @08:57PM (#37720692)
    DONT FOLLOW THIS ADVICE: Adds an anonymous optimist: "The solution? Call AT&T by dialing 611 and talking to an operator to perform a manual activation with your IMEI and SIM card #, works every time!" It will brick your phone (Apple's servers will reject your phone due to "mismatched SIM" and it will refuse to activate) and you will need to go to an Apple Store for a replacement. I spent all fucking day doing this.
    • by thegarbz (1787294)

      Apple's servers will reject your phone due to "mismatched SIM" and it will refuse to activate

      Now there's a perfectly ordinary sentence. Why the hell does Apple's server or any services Apple offers need to be attached to the phone rather than to a customer account?

    • You probably gave the operator incorrect numbers.
  • ...thousands of UPS and FedEx drivers today.
  • Only took me 2 tries, at about 7pm est.

  • Why do you need an activation server at all for???

    If done right the subscription you have shall already be activated, or activated when you purchase it.

    • by Relayman (1068986)
      As soon as the new phone is activated, the old phone is deactivated. I don't want my old phone deactivated when my new phone is sitting in a box in Texas.
  • It appears the poster made up the 100,000 number. It is not mentioned in the article. Based on the fact that Apple announced they had sold out of pre-orders at 1 million, and there is at least that many being sold in stores today, the number is probably closer to 1 million.

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