I gave a friend a new SIM card for her unlocked direct from Apple iPhone 5.

She put the SIM in, and went through the setup process, restoring her iPhone 5 from an iCloud backup. At this point, her old phone lost all signal and refuses to connect to any carrier.

She did not go through any activation process specifically as you would on a new phone, but I think that what has happened is that the activation has occurred as part of the restore process, and that this has somehow deactivated her previous phone.

Can anyone clear up what the activation process does, if it can be done automatically as part of a restore, and if this is what happened tell me how I can re-activate her old phone without a factory reset?

  • Restore 2 iPhones from 1 backup? (2010, archived) makes a point of not synchronising after restoring the first, but no mention of deactivation. apple.stackexchange.com/a/38303/8546 mentions tokens within an authorisation routine. For the question here: wonder whether a restore to both handsets will allow iTunes to authorise both. Is the user reluctant to perform a factory reset? Commented Nov 19, 2012 at 20:19

2 Answers 2


This is most likely the carrier intentionally deactivating the old SIM.

When iPhones first came out, your current phone would normally get deactivated at the moment you purchased a new phone and told the carriers to move the service to the new phone. Now, they wait until the new phone checks in to perform the swap to account for delivery delays, backups, etc...

Your first step should be to contact the carrier and explain that you want service on both phones and arrange for which number rings to which device. They might be able to accommodate this over the phone, but if the old SIM has been deactivated in the networks, most carriers are very unwilling (or unable) to re-activate the old SIM and instead ask you to get a new SIM from them at a convenient local retail spot or by them shipping you new SIM card(s).

Apple's restore process and activation of the device doesn't affect network activation and for locked phones, you just need a SIM for the correct carrier to activate the device. iOS does not check or care that the contract is expired, not established or live for iOS activation - just that the SIM is manufactured for the correct carrier.

  • 1
    This is where I don't get it, the new phone was bought outright and unlocked by Apple, no carrier involvement. The new SIM is totally unrelated to the old one, different carrier, different number, no Port process has been started, there should be no link between the two, the only one I can think is the Apple activation, which (if I am correct) is there just to define which carriers are allowed - it's as if the old phone is not allowed to see any carriers any more, because it's not activated, but I don't understand why...
    – stuffe
    Commented Nov 18, 2012 at 18:01
  • When the phone was purchased - did it get a SIM card installed and was a cellular number issued to the new device or was the sale of a device with no SIM card at all? Apple in selling the phone was acting as a direct agent of the cell carrier in question and fed your phone's IMEI/ICCID into the carrier's database for initial activation and unlock. They did this all behind the scenes and without needing to make you wait as part of the sales process when they asked for your ID, etc...
    – bmike
    Commented Nov 18, 2012 at 18:22

If the affected iPhone is a model that can work with iTunes for activation …

Personal experience with an officially unlocked iPhone (original, MB213B, refurbished and gifted to me in April 2012) that would not connect to my service provider. I simply:

  • gave the ID of the handset to the person who had gifted it.

As far as I know, he then arranged things with an Apple store that looks after his employer's handsets (this handset was not one of theirs, but the visit to the store was convenient and moreover: the users are treated with care).

In brief: not long after giving the ID, I was asked to retry things. I did so – with iTunes (probably with a developer preview of Mountain Lion) – things worked perfectly.

Whilst I'm similarly curious about activation and connection processes, and the effects of restoration to multiple devices, I think that for your friend you might distil this question. Set aside thoughts of the working device, of carriers, of de- and re- … you're left with two Apple products:

  • one iPhone
  • iTunes.


  1. https://expresslane.apple.com or
  2. iTunes – Help menu – Apple Service and Support

– and if in doubt whether to choose the iPhone or iTunes route within the lane, choose iTunes.

If the routine for you is as good as for me in the UK, Apple's Express Lane will live up to its name – you'll be offered a list of appointments, choose a time, Apple will 'phone you, you'll feel that time spent on the 'phone was time well spent.

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