August 8, 2009 6:11 PM   Subscribe

Please hope me! The Tracfone I just bought to replace a broken AT&T phone will only allow emergency calls.

My son broke the screen on his at&t phone a while back, and guys at two separate at&t stores told me I could just pick up a tracfone and switch out the sim cards no problem. So I picked up a tracfone and switched out the sim cards and the screen reads "sim lock code-1: emergency."

The phone comes with 10 minutes of setup time/support. Since I don't want to pay-as-I-go but rather use the at&t contract I'm already paying for, I don't want to register with tracfone and use those minutes. It also comes with an "activation card," with which you register that phone's serial number with tracfone. I haven't done that either, as again I don't want a tracfone account.

I've searched online but I'm frankly overwhelmed by all the technical information out there, and I'm sure that this is a simple thing that I'm just not getting. Is there an unlock code or something? How can I get this phone to work?
posted by headnsouth to Technology (13 answers total)
Take it to the store.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 6:13 PM on August 8, 2009

Is your son's old phone a 3G phone? You can't use a 3G sim in a non-3G phone (which I think tracphones are).
posted by Cat Pie Hurts at 6:19 PM on August 8, 2009

Response by poster: Is your son's old phone a 3G phone? You can't use a 3G sim in a non-3G phone (which I think tracphones are).

Damn, catpiehurts --- it is a 3G phone. Thanks. =(
posted by headnsouth at 6:26 PM on August 8, 2009

"You can't use a 3G sim in a non-3G phone"

Wut? I'm no GSM expert, but that doesn't make any sense to me at all. Citation, please.
posted by cmiller at 6:46 PM on August 8, 2009

I would have bought a GoPhone at Radio Shack. Those are AT&T phones. They shouldn't be more than $15.
posted by azpenguin at 6:47 PM on August 8, 2009

cmiller - I can't cite anything beyond my own experience using AT&T phones and sim cards. I've never been able to get an AT&T 3g sim working in an AT&T Edge/2G phone without getting the 'INVALID SIM CARD" message. I've tried 3G sims in various Motorola phones and Blackberry phones (swapping 2g cards between the motorolas and BBs worked fine, data plan or not, voice service was active).

Google tells me that it's possible to use a 3G card in a 2G iphone after using a firmware hack, so it must be something specific to the provisioning method of 3G sims (on AT&T - I can't comment on any other providers)
posted by Cat Pie Hurts at 7:15 PM on August 8, 2009

Best answer: TracFone's are all kinds of special. While there are ways to make them play nice with non TracFone sim cards, it's not worth it and I don't believe it's doable without hardware.

Go buy a GoPhone (AT&T's brand of pre-pay phones/plans) from WalMart for $30. you can get refurb'd ones at AT&T webstore for $10 (plus an amount in shipping that is not immediately apparent to me). *

As to the 3g vs not 3g sim card thing; that certainly isn't the case with the sim from my iphone 3g. I just put it in a non 3g phone and it worked fine.

* I am reasonably confident that this information is correct and would happily tell my own grandmother to follow it, but your mileage may vary and I am not to blame for any lost time/money/
posted by fief at 7:18 PM on August 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

The Tracfone is probably locked to Tracfone SIM cards. Tracfone's purpose in doing this would be to prevent you from buying their phone at a low price and then using it with someone else's service (such as AT&T). It is usually possible to unlock phones, but it probably isn't worth it in this case. I second fief's recommendation to buy the cheapest AT&T GoPhone you can find.

At one point, AT&T was selling Pantech C120 GoPhones for $10 each. I have one, and they're actually pretty nice, especially for $10.
posted by Juffo-Wup at 7:49 PM on August 8, 2009

Yeah, using any other SIM card in a Tracfone (even a Tracfone SIM card!) is rather dubious. They lock down their phones pretty severely.
posted by neckro23 at 7:55 PM on August 8, 2009

Best answer: Tracfone devices are virtually impossible to unlock, to the point that they might as well not have a SIM at all. Their custom (and usually un-reflashable, to prevent flipping by resellers) firmware locks the individual SIM and phone together, so that not only can you not use another network's SIM in it, ever, but you can't use a Tracfone SIM in a non-Tracfone handset nor can you swap SIMs freely between Tracfones.

Like fief said, grab a GoPhone handset off the shelf and it should work. I've heard that GoPhones ordered from AT&T online lately come locked to only work with prepaid SIMs, but I'm not sure how true that actually is, and I don't think it applies to the retail ones anyway.

Kudos to the store employees for a truly masterful level of cluelessness, too, especially since they probably could have taken care of this for you on the spot instead of sending you off with bad advice.
posted by robt at 9:43 PM on August 8, 2009

BTW, the advice about the 3G SIM card not working in non-3G phones is simply not true. It is a function of the phone; I can use my AT&T 3G SIM card in my definitely-not-3G Neo1973 phone. The SIM gives you a unique ID, it doesn't handle network traffic or anything.
posted by jrockway at 11:10 PM on August 8, 2009

Ditto AT&T GoPhone. They cheerfully unlocked it for me. Shop around; different stores will have different phone models.
posted by theora55 at 4:50 PM on August 9, 2009

Response by poster: I brought the tracfone back and picked up an at&t gophone today. Works perfectly, piece of cake like the at&t store guys said the tracfone would. I am just cynical enough to wonder if, because of my obvious ignorance, they sent me on a fool's errand so that I'd have to come back and buy a pricey new phone from them when the tracfone didn't work. Thanks to you guys I am only out $30, half of which the kid is paying =) Thanks everyone.
posted by headnsouth at 5:09 PM on August 9, 2009

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