The mysterious story of the Apple iPhone 4S not working in India

If you are one amongst consumers who had purchased the iPhone 4S from outside India and were facing issues getting it to work here , good news for you. Many users including me were seeing no signal bars on the iPhone 4S in India. Calls and SMS were not working.Surprisingly 3G data was working fine on most operators including Airtel , Vodafone and BSNL. I had tried using some international SIM cards such as AT&T, T-Mobile , O2 UK, 3 UK, SmarTone (HK). The issue was strange as I had another iPhone 4S which was working perfectly fine with all the SIM cards.

Look at the speedtest below on BSNL. Awesome speeds but no signal bars ! Weird right ?

Awesome speed yet no bars

iPhone 4S was working perfectly fine outside India

This is the same phone which was working perfectly fine in the UK. In fact i was using the 4S as a Hotspot for my laptop as I had unlimited data from 3UK.

Hardware problem  ? Not convinced

If the device had a manufacturing defect or if the hardware was faulty, how would it work in the UK that too for a couple of days without throwing up an error. In fact since I have 2 4S devices sitting next to each other. How would one work and other won’t . I’m not really convinced if it could be a hardware issue. If I return the phone to Apple and get a replacement ,  what is the guarantee that the problem won’t appear in the new phone too ! The problem lies somewhere else.

SIM problem or Network Problem

One tech enthusiast Atul  Chitnis  suggested it was an Operator issue, coupled with operator issued sims.  I always believed it had something to do with Indian networks as the phone I have was working on 3UK, O2 UK and Vodafone UK without any issues. Atul is right about the SIM because I noticed the iPhone 4S seems to reject home-made microSIM cards. The Vodafone and BSNL sim cards which work on the iPhone 4S are factory made microSIMS issued by the operator.

Another blogger Rajat from  was suggesting it could be an issue with the IMEI number of these new devices. Since the device is fairly new , it might be the case that operators were not authorizing the device on their networks. I would party agree with that but then how does 3G data work on such devices ? Won’t the SIM registration fail in such cases ? Another dead end .

A lot of users have been constantly talking about this issue on the Apple support forums and surprisingly there has not been any statement by any Apple employee in this regard. A small portion of the users have devices which would work and the majority of users who were complaining faced the same issue as mine – No calls or sms but data works ! I had subscribed to this forum and my inbox was getting hammered constantly. It was amazing to see how some consumers were trying to help others and amusing to see some venting their anger.  But can’t blame them because , even I was seriously upset about this issue. A lot of users had complained to the Apple Technical support about this issue and could not get an definite answer.

Magically problem is getting fixed and phones are fully functional on some networks

Today ,  I was rather surprised to see some updates from users that the phones which had an issue had started to work suddenly or magically ! Till now, most users had zero or minimum help from operators and even Apple had suggested that they were working on this issue and had no solution at hand at present. But then today i heard reports of the iPhone 4S suddenly starting to work on some networks. I immediately tried to pop-in my Vodafone and BSNL microSIM cards into the 4S and boom it worked ! Full bars and calls and SMS worked too ! I can confirm Vodafone and BSNL work fine for me . Airtel still refuses to work but that might be because I’m not using a proper microSIM card. I tried AT&T USA (worked) , 3UK (worked) , (O2 UK does not work – Airtel. This clearly seems like a Operator / Network issue as the iPhone 4S works on select networks.

Honestly ,  my respect for Apple has increased by a fold as I never expected them to offer support for a device not currently on sale in India and also not purchased in the country. My respect for operators on the other hand has dwindled as they had no clue how to tackle the issue. Can’t blame them as the device is not launched in India , but then some operators even refused to offer a microSIM card.  This issue brings up a million dollar question to consumers like you who are reading this post.

Will you buy any phone from outside India after you heard about such an incident ? Do you agree to pay a premium in price for local support ? Let us know in the comments !


  • The iPhone 4S is picky at accepting SIM cards , it prefers factory made microSIMs
  • It takes a lot of time to latch on to a network
  • 3G coverage is not great in India and the iPhone 4S does not have a toggle switch to turn off 3G. Hence the device might be ideal for Indian networks
  • Apple is marketing the 4S as a World phone , but refuses to work on certain operators. Aren’t they supposed to take responsibility for this issue.
  • Some users who are roaming internationally in India with a 4S might also faced this issue.
  • Users who faced this issue had purchased factory unlocked phones from Apple in UK, USA, Singapore , Canada and few other countries where Apple is selling factory unlocked phones.

Further Reading

Apple Support forum

iPhone 4S Unboxing

Author: Varun Krish

Varun Krish is a Mobile Technology Enthusiast and has been blogging about mobile phones since 2005. His current phones include the Apple iPhone 13 Pro and Google Pixel 6. You can follow him on Twitter @varunkrish and on Google+ You can also mail Varun Krish