One Hour With The New Apple SIM


Along with Apple’s introduction of the iPad Air 2 comes a new take on the lowly SIM card. Not only does the tablet ship with just about every LTE band and frequency one could want, the hardware is delivered preloaded with an agnostic SIM for network authentication. As T-Mobile’s CEO tweets:

So the Apple SIM theoretically saves Apple some packaging expenses and provides us, the end users, with amazing flexibility – buy the iPad and choose whichever carrier we want at any point after we get it home. And, down the road, we’d be free to flip carriers as coverage or pricing changes. It’s a grand, consumer friendly vision. However, the future hasn’t quite arrived. Due, once again, to short-sighted carrier protectionism (and technical glitches).

First, Verizon has chosen to completely abstain. Buy you iPad direct from Apple, and your Apple SIM registration choices are limited to AT&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile. Choose AT&T and the SIM becomes locked to the current edition of Ma Bell, requiring replacement should you want to later change up your 4G provider. Sprint and T-Mobile, with fewer subscribers and thus more motivation, are fully onboard with the reprogrammable Apple SIM. Yet, multiple attempts to register my iPad Air 2 on T-Mobile’s network… failed. A 25 minute call to T-Mobile support, followed by about 10 minutes of waiting, ultimately got it done – despite my doubts. Being first can often be inconvenient.

With that, we’ll once again give John Legere the floor for Apple SIM closing remarks:

12 thoughts on “One Hour With The New Apple SIM”

  1. As an update, T-Mobile’s coverage has improved in my area over the last few months – along with their consumer-friendly plans and pricing structure, with fewer BS fees, the network is now good enough in our day-to-day routine that we’re staying put. And $10 to add this tablet with doubled data (up to 5GB) is a steal. (They also offering up a compelling pay-as-you go plan at $10 for 5GB of data to be used over 5 months, not to mention the free monthly 200MB granted to all tablets registered with their network.)

    Also interesting that none of this Apple SIM detail was revealed in the professional iPad Air 2 reviews … that’s what happens when a company hands you an already-activated device I suppose. Not quite an authentic experience.

  2. IT seems to me that a carrier agnostic sim is only useful after a carrier has locked your existing sim to its network. carrier agnosticism would seem to make it not need a sim at all.

    I guess it’s still useful because when travelling outside the US, I can still go into a newsagent and pick up a sim for a reasonable fee.

  3. Does it really matter if the SIM can be used with any carrier? The important thing is that the hardware works with any carrier so you can just sign up with carrier of choice and plug in their SIM. Or am I missing something? For example I have an original AT&T iPad that I can’t link up to my wife’s verizon account…though I know this $700 beast has very little useful life.

  4. @Mark It works with At&t, Sprint, TMobile and EE in both hardware and with the sim card. Verizon did not participate in the universal SIM, but it does look like there is only one model so you can swap sim cards for verizon.

    This is an innovation that no one cares about except reviewers. The vast majority of people rarely, if ever, switch carriers. And when they do, swapping a sim card is not a big deal.

  5. I flip… and with a fully implemented Apple SIM, I could be convinced to flip more frequently for better rates, promos, etc. The carriers would actually benefit from the frictionless competition if they got with the plan. But you and Mark are right that the bigger deal is unlocked devices with nearly all or the relevant bands. Wonder if this is a prelude to the iPhone 6S. But don’t discount the fact that I couldn’t even activate my iPad without a call – ain’t ready for prime time. Not sure if I’m a “reviewer” or not. I like to think of myself as a man of the people, a fellow tech-loving geek.

  6. For reference, T-Mobile charges $10. Not sure how others handle it. (You also can’t instantaneously flip if you’re on travel somewhere that one carrier offers better coverage than another.)

  7. Mark,
    When I traveled in Europe over the summer, depending on the country, it could take me an hour to a day or two before I could find a place to get a SIM. Not only is it frustrating, but it also takes time away from actual sight seeing. Having a universal SIM would be a godsend.

  8. @Dave – The blog posting is very US-centric (you don’t mention EE) and doesn’t consider the fact that people travel internationally where roaming fees can be 1000X more expensive (on a per GB basis) as home market rates. Even some Americans own passports and go overseas, or at least over the Great Lakes to the Great White North!

    Martin has hit the nail on the head. While it is easy to say “Just go get a SIM” when you go to a new country it isn’t so easy to do on a practical basis. Where do you get a SIM? It can take a day or two to find a store that is open and has them. Some airports have Wireless carrier shops in the arrival area of their airport (Auckland NZ for example). I fly into LGA from Toronto all the time and I have never seen such a shop at LGA or at other US airports.

    I live in Canada travel frequently to the US, UK and Hong Kong. I have microSIMs for my iPad for those markets (plus others I have only visited occasionally). I also have an unlocked cheapo dumbphone with SIMs for all of these countries as well. Generally the cards expire 30 days after you first use them. Re-activating is not simple as you often (always?) need a credit card based in that country to buy more time/data on the SIM. So then you have to go find a new SIM or hope that a top-up that you buy at the Tesco Express will work for the iPad data plan.

    Travelling internationally with data devices is extremely frustrating and just when it looked like Apple was trying to improve the situation our hopes were dashed.

  9. Oh, trust me, I know the challenge of securing coverage while abroad. I never roam, but I do seek out SIMs or run voice over WiFi when I can find a trustworthy and open WiFi hotspot. I even flipped to T-Mobile (US) to ease my travel pains. But, as you indicate, the international situation is even worse than what I relayed for Apple SIM and wasn’t worth mentioning with only one carrier onboard. It’ll be interesting to see if others get with the program… and how long it might take.

  10. My main solution for roaming now is an unlocked Sierra Wireless Wifi hotspot since it allows you to connect multiple devices, at least via wifi, to one SIM card. The problem is activating a SIM card in it. When I come to the US I find it easiest to activate an AT&T SIM in my iPad and then move it over to the hotspot.

    FYI – to those from outside of the US, you can sign up for an AT&T iPad account with a non-US based Amex card. For some reason they don’t cross-check the address that you sign up with vs your “official” Amex credit card address.

    From my perspective – not much point in getting other carriers onboard. Apple SIM is pretty much useless in its current form. It just saves Apple stores from having to stock SIMs from multiple carriers.

  11. “Being first can often be inconvenient.” That’s the caveat right there. Though, Apple did cause the market to follow suit with the micro-SIM, but there wasn’t much change when it went in the way of the nano-SIM. The reprogrammable SIM, as a concept, though, may have promise. Especially in the way of changing carrier plans and rates. Only time will tell, though. We’ll have to see if the carriers go for it, and if the market accepts it by next year.

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