Net10 and other AT&T MVNO carriers should be pissed off at AT&T right now

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.


Weekend Project: Do-it-yourself home Time Capsule wireless backup

I have been using a USB external hard drive to hold my Time Machine backups. Unfortunately I rarely plug the USB drive into my laptop because I like the freedom of walking around with my Macbook Air.  Thus, it became evident that I need a wireless backup solution.

I embarked on a guide to make a time capsule backup system out of my old Ubuntu machine (augmented with another time capsule server on Ubuntu article) I ran into some problems along the way because I want the Time Machine backup to go to a USB hard drive that is connected to my Ubuntu server.

Problem #1:  the USB drive went into read-only mode when connected to the Ubuntu machine.

Ubuntu does not support journaled file systems. I found this out by running “dmesg” command on the command line.

prompt% dmesg
[ 901.720694] hfs: write access to a journaled filesystem is not supported, use the force option at your own risk, mounting read-only.

Armed with this knowledge, I had to hunt around I to find a solution whereby my Ubuntu machine could write to the Mac-formatted HD. The solution I went with was to turn off Mac Journaled file system on the HD.

Plug the USB HD into your Mac:

  • Open Disk Utility under Applications -> Utilities
  • Select the volume to disable journaling on.
  • Choose Disable Journaling from the File menu. (On later Mac OS versions you’ll have to hold down the option button when you click the File menu. Or if you like Apple+J)

Problem 2: Mac could not connect to Ubuntu

Before embarking on this project I was running samba on the Ubuntu machine for sharing on my home network. Samba is problematic because Mac/Time Machine requires AFP to work. So I decided to turn off Samba and use AFP exclusively for my filesharing. Netatalk is Ubuntu’s AFP service. (sudo apt-get install netatalk, as per the original instructions).

I ran into a problem with netatalk. My Mac OS X 10.7.* machine could not connect to the netatalk AFP service because when it tried to connect I got an “unsupported protocol” error message. It turns out that the authentication method specified in instructions for the /etc/netatalk/afpd.conf file are outdated. An easy fix to get my Mac talking to Ubuntu worked on the first try. Apparently the password authentication scheme changed with Mac 10.7.X

Edit /etc/netatalk/afpd.conf at the end of the file:

- -tcp -noddp -uamlist,


- -tcp -noddp -uamlist,

Then restart the service.

sudo service netatalk restart

Problem 3: Time Machine does not like the drive. (remains unresolved for me)

After some cajoling, I have my Mac talking successfully to my Ubuntu machine fixed HD but not talking to the USB HD connected on the Ubuntu machine. Part of the problem has been that I started out this project running Ubuntu 10.X while the current major release is 12.04. Consequently I am in the process of upgrading 10->11->12.04.

I need to upgrade the Ubuntu installations because Time Machine does not like like the version of Netatalk that I have and I figure updating Ubuntu all the way to the most current version should bring netatalk up-to-speed along with all of the other outdated packages that I have.

Side notes:

I thought I would be following the instructions How to make a Windows Time Capsule, likely with some modifications necessary because I have Ubuntu, not Windows. However, I don’t have a USB router so scratch that.

[Follow UP] I was able to get my homemade Time Capsule working and it was great for the first two weeks. Then I encountered a problem where Time Machine would report that the Backup was corrupted and consequently I would have to back up from scratch. There is a way to fix the error but it never permanently fixes the issue. After a fixing and re-fixing my TM backup over the course of a few months I decided it’s not worth the hassle and am using a wired USB drive for backup. The ReadyNAS is still great for multimedia storage.


Missing Cellular Data Settings on iOS 6

I recently bought a used iPhone 4 from my friend for use on the Net10 (a.k.a Tracfone or StraightTalk) network. Net10 piggybacks as a MVNO carrier on the AT&T or T-mobile networks.

Ever since I got the phone, data and MMS do not work on Net10 because I have not been able to update and save the APN settings that Net10 instructs you to use:

Net10 (and many other MVNO carriers) will tell you to adjust your APN settings in order to use data.

To adjust APN settings in iOS you to go to “Settings > General > Cellular > Cellular Data”.

Unfortunately, the crucial menu for “Cellular data” does not appear in iOS 6, depending on the type of SIM you have in your iPhone. AT&T flavored SIM cards provided by Net10 do NOT have the setting. Many people report being able to do a SIM swap method whereby they use a t-mobile SIM card to get to the “cellular data” setting and then swapping in their Net10 SIM card. Yes I can confirm that you will be able to see the menu and alter the APN settings.

However, once I exit that “Ceullular Data” menu my APN settings do not get saved. I know this because I get an error message from Safari that I am not subscribed to a cellular data network.