Posted on January 23, 2013 in General

I recently decided to get 3G service back onto my iPad 2. I thought this would be a simple little process of replacing the SIM and activating it. Well, it didn’t turn out that way. I spent a very long time trying to determine what exactly was going on and finally gave up. The iPad wouldn’t do anything with 3G and would just display No Service. If you ended up reading this hoping I have a glorious fix, unfortunately I don’t have a good one. I did make it work in the end, though.

The basic problem seems to be that the backups from iOS 5.1.1 were storing some sort of setting that once restored would cause the cellular settings to not actually see any carriers (it could see one carrier, but unrelated to the ones I needed to see). Part of the problem is that as iOS versions have been updated, Apple has removed some of the cellular configuration that was previously available. Since iOS upgrades tend to be a one way trip after the signing window closes, once the iPad was updated to iOS 6.0.1, there wasn’t a way to get back into the 5.1.1 settings to remove any invalid data.

The iPad was able to access the 3G network immediately after a fresh factory reset, so it clearly wasn’t a hardware problem. Both the iCloud backup and local iTunes backup caused the iPad to sit with Searching… for a minute or two and finish with No Service. I figured I wasn’t the first person to experience this issue, so to Google I went. Clearly, I wasn’t the first person to have this problem. However, nothing anyone else suggested or tried did any good.

I tried a number of things to recover the device and make it go online:

  1. Replaced the new SIM with the old one.
  2. Replaced the new SIM with another new one.
  3. Reset network settings (Settings - General - Reset - Reset Network Settings)
  4. Restored the device with stock firmware via iTunes.
  5. Restored from iCloud backup on a fresh iOS restore.
  6. Restored from a local backup on a fresh iOS restore.
  7. Restored from a local backup from the day before over top of the previous restore.
  8. Restored the firmware in DFU mode.
  9. Reset the thing a dozen more times and retried many of the above steps.
  10. Edited the local backup to replace the carrier preferences in the preferences plist (more on this in a bit).
  11. Edited the local backup by taking a new backup of the blank device and copying the exact default settings (which worked) to the old backup and restoring that (which didn’t work to get signal).

That was a lot of steps and none of them was particularly swift. I edited the local backups using iBackupBot, trying to remove old data (there were old APN settings), reset the data with known working configurations, removing the entire set of preferences, copying all the preference plist files from the newest clean backup. Nothing was working.

After many hours, I finally gave up on trying to make one of my backups work to replace all my apps and data and configuration. It was only a small setting hidden somewhere in the backup that was killing the service entirely, but one I clearly couldn’t find (and neither could anyone else, according to Google searches and a lot of reading).

I didn’t want to lose all of my app data, so I went hunting for a new way to restore just application backups. I was also running out of time as the new, broken iPad was backing itself up to iCloud randomly and starting to destroy any useful information that was already in iCloud. I found iTools which seemed to be able to do just such a restore.

I had 248 apps on the iPad, totalling about 12gb of apps and 2gb of application local data. iTools managed to back it all up, but restoring it in one to was no working. It wrote all 248 apps back when I went and *Install*ed all the backup IPA files, but it would only restore the application data for a few at a time. It was a requirement to quit and reopen the tool every couple of reinstalls to get it to put the app local data back in with the app. With this little frustration, my iPad now has about 30 apps that I really cared about, and all the rest are waiting in the backup location to maybe one day be restored to the iPad.

All of the hours and wasted time and loss of data could have been easily prevented if Apple didn’t lock out all of the cellular provider controls, or, better yet, if the reset network settings option actually reset all the network settings to a true factory default.

So, sorry if you hoped I had an answer for this problem, but there just isn’t one that doesn’t involve jailbreaking. Since there’s not presently an iPad 2 jailbreak for iOS 6, there wasn’t much hope in manually modifying the broken plist files after they were restored from backup. It’s just another unfortunate case of a vendor doing what’s best for “simplicity” (aka best for the carriers) just causing grief for legitimate needs. In the end, iTools did enough of the restore for me to not be out a bunch of data and 3G is working just fine now.

If you’ve had this problem and found an actual solution, let me know. I’m curious to see if someone else has figured it out.

Tagged in ipad, ios, apple, 3g
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