Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Porting an H2O Wireless (AT&T MVNO) to AT&T

(Original 6/24/2015, updated 64/28/2019 when ported last number to AT&T)

When I last wrote about H2O Wireless, our kids dirt cheap mobile carrier, I mentioned that our daughter’s texting costs were bringing the monthly H2O fee close to the $25/month device fee on Emily and my AT&T account. 

The move has come sooner than I’d expected, because in the process of debugging her iPhone [1] with some SIM swaps we lost all data access. I tried contacting H2O wireless to see if they had a fix, but I couldn’t get through. I didn’t try too hard — the H2O web site is increasingly clear that prepaid plans aren’t supposed to have data access. I figured we were living on borrowed time.

Our first attempt at porting failed though. I did it at an AT&T retail store; they had the impression we couldn’t port an AT&T MVNO number to AT&T because the porting software wasn’t designed for that use case.

i was going to let things lie for a bit, but then my daughter started getting 2-3 AT&T texts a day demanding she finish her porting. When I called up to stop the bloody things I was transferred to the “porting department’, where I ran into one of those miraculous people who actually know how things work.

Turns out the problem was not the MVNO to AT&T port. The problem is that nobody knows what the account number is for an H2O Wireless prepaid account. H2O’s correspondence and web site imply it’s either the phone number for the H2O phone or my phone number associated with the master account and credit cards.

Wrong. The account number is the SIM Card number, known to iOS settings or iTunes as the ICCID number. In addition you need to know a “passcode”, which is typically the last 4 digits of the ICCID number (supposedly customers can change this, perhaps from an H2O SIMd phone).

An AT&T porting center expert told me when the port was authorized, then I went back to an  the AT&T store to complete the process (create a database relationship between IEMI (phone ID) and ICCID (SIM card ID)) and pick up a new SIM. Our daughter’s phone service continued until the AT&T rep complete the process. There are a few things you need to do before completion:

  • Delete the H2O profile if you have one. This is hard to find in iOS 8; it’s in Settings:General then “Profiles”. You need the H2O profile to get data on an H2O SIMd phone, but if you don’t remove it you won’t have data posts transfer to AT&T. (You can remove it after transfer and you’ll get data.)
  • Log out of Message and FaceTime — these have their own authentication mechanism and they may get confused by the SIM swap.
  • If you’re using Google Voice for voicemail remove it. (Restore post switch or just use iPhone Visual voicemail — if Google’s directions don’t work see this page.)

On our no-contract mobile share account we were charged $15 $30 for adding the phone [Update: cost doubled between 2015 and 2019]

After you confirm voice and data services on the newly activated time enable Message, FaceTime and setup visual voicemail.

[1] An old 32GB iPhone 4S we fondly call the “DemonPhone”. It has been my primary tech support pain for years — possibly due to occult hardware issues, but also due to Apple’s bugs, DRM flaws, and hacked together online services. H2O hasn’t necessarily helped; adding a low quality and low service mobile carrier to a buggy phone puts the D in Demon.

Update 8/3/2015 has a priceless resource on phone number porting, including H2O wireless.

  • account number is the ICCID of the SIM card
  • To find account number you need to call H2O wireless. Try 800-643-4296. They will provide you with the secret account number, it’s not available otherwise. You’ll need to provide the last 3 numbers dialed.
  • PIN is the last 4 digits of the SIM card ID/ ICCID

Because AT&T usual porting tool doesn’t work with MVNOs, or perhaps because I’m on a corporate discount account, I needed to do this at an AT&T store. It took at least 30 minutes of rep time.

Incidentally, I’m separately looking at porting a CenturyLink number to a burner phone then to Google Voice — hoping that will also kill my CenturyLink service (really, Comcast may be better, if only because more people hate them). That information is harder to find. I’ve read two theories on the CenturyLink number porting (number security) PIN both from a single source (the lack of information is a rather strong hint that CenturyLink is quite dead).

  • last four digits of account holder’s SSN
  • the 3 digits that follow the CenturyLink phone number on a billing statement (not including a letter that may follow those digits).

My guess is the SSN, but I’ll write a post about what happens.

Update 9/4/2015: What happens when you screw up a port and the number gets stuck.

Months after I wrote this I had to port another number. Unfortunately I relied on memory rather than reading my old notes; I tried the port at the store and messed it up. I should have done it through my AT&T account and just gone to the store to get a new SIM. This resulted in a stranded phone number — H2O’s account system couldn’t work with it but AT&T’s port eligibility page said it could’t be ported.

I knew H2O couldn’t fix the problem (their support staff is hapless), so I called AT&T’s porting service directly (888-898-7685) and “Darlene” fixed it. She spent about 30 minutes on hold with H2O then called me back.

I took the phone to the AT&T store, but ran into a confused rep. He didn’t understand how to finish the process. The clue was to say something like “check port status”, from that he found the right screen and quickly completed the port.


varsha said...

Happy to know that after so much struggle your problem got solved.

Unknown said...

H2O wireless Customer Support number now asks a number of marketing questions ("Does anyone in your household own a car?") and I never reached an agent. Somewhat surprisingly, I was able to get the info in a 10m Chat session.