Apple’s release of iOS 6.0 has likely caused Net10 (a.k.a. Straight Talk or Tracfone) and other AT&T MVNO mobile carriers a LOT of headaches this year. I think AT&T asked Apple to hide the APN settings menus purposely with the intent to hurt its MVNO partners.
Read a few stories on the web and you’ll find out that Apple hides an “APN settings” screen from AT&T and AT&T MVNO customers that would otherwise allow iPhone owners to use data and MMS through the much-cheaper MVNO carriers. MVNO carriers typically offer non-contract phone plans that are hundreds of dollars cheaper than a standard AT&T two-year contract.
Hiding these APN settings menus affects the MVNO carriers that piggyback off of AT&T because without access to the APN, your phone won’t work 100%. No data. No MMS. No iMessage. The only “fix” that anyone has found is to obtain a T-mobile SIM card and follow a sequence of steps in a precise way to trick the iPhone into thinking it had a T-Mobile SIM card so that I could alter the settings that I needed to change. I probably tried a dozen times without any success. This experience actually turns out to be a good advertisement for T-Mobile because lo and behold a T-Mobile monthly actually allows me to use my phone 100% for the same price as the other MVNO anyway!
The result of this is some serious collateral damage to the AT&T MVNO carriers:
First, the Net10 customer service forums have been littered with dozens of people requesting help to reactivate the data feature on their iPhones. I know this because I was one of the dozens of people clogging the phone support lines trying to figure out why things stopped working. This in itself probably costs Net10/Tracfone/Straight Talk quite a bit of money.
Second, customers can vote with their wallets and leave the affected carriers. Since most of the MVNOs are pre-paid non-contract phones it’s easy for me to pick up and leave. It’s as simple as walking into a T-Mobile store and swapping out a SIM card.
Third, I would think that this has to be a breach of a service-level agreement between AT&T and the MVNOs because an essential offering has been taken away from the MVNO’s customer base, causing customers to leave.
It seems silly that AT&T would want to harm MVNO carriers on its network. After all, the MVNOs must be paying AT&T some amount of money for the bandwidth, regardless of being wholesale price or not. At least they are getting some money back. By switching to T-Mobile (or Virgin Mobile or Verizon pre-paid, etc.) that are off of AT&T’s towers the net profit for AT&T becomes zero dollars instead of the commission that AT&T could have gotten from Net10.