How Google Fi Illegally Bricked My iPhone 11 Pro Max

Chase Peterson
3 min readSep 11, 2020

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When I discovered Google Fi six months ago, I thought to myself, “Finally, a phone service that accomplishes everything I need at a reasonable price.” Unlimited data anywhere in the world for $50 per month? As someone who frequently travels internationally for work, it seemed almost too good to be true.

The first few months of service were smooth sailing. Fast data and great coverage no matter what country I was in. The days of buying pre-paid SIM cards from shady airport kiosks and fumbling through my SIM collection as my plane landed were becoming nothing more than distant memories. That is, until COVID-19 restricted travel and essentially locked me in the Cayman Islands.

After a few months of being trapped in Cayman, I received the following email from Google Fi stating that my international coverage was being suspended:

“As a reminder, Fi’s Terms of Service requires you to use our service primarily in the United States (territories not included), and it looks like you’ve been predominantly using Fi abroad over the past 3 months. Your international roaming data capabilities have been suspended, and will be reinstated once you start using Fi predominantly in the United States (territories not included).”

At this point I was incredibly frustrated, but I didn’t have the time to spend arguing with Google’s customer support, so I just decided to buy a local pre-paid SIM card. This is where things get really ugly…

When I slid the new Digicel SIM card into my iPhone 11 Pro Max, I received an error message stating that my previous carrier had locked my phone. This was confusing to me, as I had purchased the new, unlocked phone from Best Buy a few months earlier and had only used it with Google Fi. I reached out to Google Fi’s customer support, but they took a firm stance stating that they do not lock phones and couldn’t do anything to help me.

After some digging through Google Fi’s online support community, I found this thread from another Fi customer who had experienced a similar problem. I learned that Google Fi exclusively uses the T-Mobile network for iPhone customers, and activating a Google Fi SIM with an iPhone causes T-Mobile to lock the phone to the T-Mobile network (which is illegal, since the user hasn’t entered into any service agreement with T-Mobile). When I reached out to T-Mobile customer support, they told me that they can see that the phone is locked to their network, but they are unable to unlock it without it being tied to a T-Mobile account.

So now here I am: Stuck in the Cayman Islands with a $1,100 iPhone that is now worthless, as I can no longer use Google Fi since they suspended my service and I can’t switch to another carrier because they locked my phone to the T-Mobile network. All while their support team is gas-lighting me, swearing that Google Fi can’t lock phones and there is nothing they can do to help.

The moral of the story? Avoid Google Fi. Trust me, it’s not worth it.

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