I recently got an iPhone 3GS without a SIM card. I upgraded it to iOS 6 from 5.1.1. However, the phone is stuck on "Activation error" after successfully connecting to my WiFi. The screen says:

Activation request could not be completed. If the problem persists, please contact customer care.

If connected to iTunes 11, iTunes says:

We're sorry, we are unable to continue with your activation at this time.

Resetting the phone doesn't work. Anybody has any ideas, besides contacting customer care?

Edit: The problem was solved by inserting a valid SIM card.

  • 1
    I am stuck with same issue. I had a jail break before coz my iphone i locked to AT&T. Now AT&T has unlocked my phone and I tried to upgrade to latest IOS. I am trying to activate by using LYCA mobile sim.
    – user37706
    Jan 2, 2013 at 15:50
  • Maybe a SIM card is required for the upgrade not to crash the phone?
    – Gruber
    Jan 2, 2013 at 16:05
  • yeah but now my phone is crashed... no restore option in itues also... guess i need to go for jail break gain...... :( which i do not want to....
    – user37709
    Jan 2, 2013 at 16:18

2 Answers 2


The message you describe is what happens when a locked phone is restored by iTunes without a SIM present from the carrier that the phone should be locked.

You could use any of the IME I look up tools on the Internet- some are free and some are paid and all make me worry they are harvesting databases of IMEI/serial number/other data in exchange for providing you a service by looking up your phone in the carrier database.

Of course, you can always contact the carrier in question to see what is needed to get service or a Sim card for that device.

  • Thanks. You're probably right, just wish Apple could have used a more comprehensible error message. I'll try to find a SIM from the carrier and update this question when I got news. Hopefully the device will unlock itself.
    – Gruber
    Jan 2, 2013 at 16:34
  • I wouldn't expect Apple to make iTunes any easier for someone with 100 stolen iPhones to restore, classify, and rehabilitate those phones with iTunes. Most people know exactly what carrier their phone was sold to and never see that message. Hopefully eBay and other legitimate sellers get smart about insisting a SIM to activate each device is sold or called out as a red flag / potential stolen phone situation.
    – bmike
    Jan 2, 2013 at 16:55
  • There are legitimate users who wish to upgrade old iPhones without SIM cards. An old iPhone without SIM card can be used for many purposes; camera, calculator, for taking notes etc.
    – Gruber
    Jan 3, 2013 at 8:51
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    Totally - and I have both sold phones and helped people buy them. iTunes does give the short answer since it directs everyone to customer care where the triage can happen to discover why activation failed. There are over a dozen things that can cause activation to fail, so the process usually takes 10 to 20 minutes if there are adequate resources to test each item and the possibility to get a server side check on the activation details that a carrier or Apple trained tech can and will perform. I hope you and others don't feel I implied your phone was not above the board - that wasn't my intent
    – bmike
    Jan 3, 2013 at 13:36

I had a similar error once, and if I remember correctly, it was that the time on the iPhone was wrong (months or years, I think). Setting the time correctly allowed it to go through.

  • Thanks, but the phone is just stuck at an "Activation Error" screen so there is no way I can access settings. Seems I'll just have to leave the phone to a repair shop.
    – Gruber
    Jan 2, 2013 at 12:15

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