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Verizon Ellipsis tablets and MDM device owner mode

If your company, like most, uses mobile device management (MDM) software to administer different mobile devices among your employees, you are going to be heartbroken to know that the Verizon Ellipsis tablets have a hard time accepting an MDM’s “device owner” mode. This mode basically allows the MDM software to take complete ownership of the device, which prevents employees from doing things on the tablets they shouldn’t be doing (installing unapproved apps, making system changes, etc.).

Our company started with Meraki. Upon starting up the Ellipsis tablet the first time, at the sign-in to a Google account screen, you enter the text “afw#meraki” and the device goes on to the internet, downloads the Meraki management software, and begins to push different policies and software to the device. That’s in a perfect work. The problem comes, though, when the Meraki software tries to take ownership of the device. Something within the Ellipsis tablet prevents this from happening, and you get a constant loop of the tablet denying the take-over, and the Meraki software continuing to try and take it over.

The kicker, though, is when we tried two different tablet models, they both worked without issue. A Google Nexus 7 and a Samsung Galaxy Tab A both joined up in device owner mode without issue.

At first we chalked this up to being a Meraki/Ellipsis issue, thinking something between the two didn’t like each other. Since we have over 50 of these tablets on hand, however, we couldn’t just buy new ones and roll with the punches. Our company was planning to move away from Meraki anyway, so we figured what better time than now, and so we started looking into Sophos. The MDM device owner mode was supposed to happen the same way, instead using “afw#sophos” at the sign-in screen when the tablet first comes on.

Doing this brought the same issues along. At the point where the MDM tries to take ownership of the device, you get a loop of the tablet denying it (behind the scenes…you never get any error messages alerting you to this) and the software continually trying. The only recourse when you get to this point is to shut the tablet down and do a complete device wipe from the boot loader.

This has brought on a many hour chase-and-hunt game that I would have preferred to just not have happen. Verizon has been good, though, so far, in helping us with a possible device swap. Although we are still waiting to hear back on their remediation plan, we are confident they will come through with helping us getting these tablets setup on the MDM of our choice (hopefully without trying to push us towards their MDM in the meantime).

Let this post serve as a warning to all of you that are looking to purchase the Verizon Ellipsis tablets with the hope of enrolling them in a device owner mode with your MDM of choice: it won’t happen, it can’t happen, it’s impossible. Verizon engineers did something to these tablets behind-the-scenes that prevents any MDM from taking ownership of the device, so you are going to be a left in a weird “pseudo” device owner mode. Currently our tablets have the work profile added, but it has to be added alongside a regular Google account, which means employees get two versions of all apps: one with a briefcase icon (the work profile app) and one without (the personal Google account app). The employee can still go into the non-briefcase Play Store and install whatever they want without any limitations.

We are hoping to be done with this problem soon, and I will be happy to update anyone who wants to know, when that happens.

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