That new multi-carrier SIM card in the iPad Air 2 and iPad Mini 3 will lock to AT&T after activation

While the introduction of what amounts to a universal SIM card in the new iPad Air 2 and iPad mini 3 brought on celebration of an impending future of easier carrier switching with just one SIM, we're only halfway there. Not only does the SIM not support Verizon, but if you try to activate it on AT&T, it will lock the SIM to that carrier.

Per Apple's support documentiaton (opens in new tab):

Using Apple SIM, you can choose from different cellular carriers and their various programs. The data plans vary by carrier. For instance, in the United States, you can choose a domestic plan from either Sprint or T-Mobile and also pick an alternate plan from the other carrier as needed. When you choose AT&T on iPad Air 2 and iPad mini 3, AT&T dedicates Apple SIM to their network only.

Naturally, T-Mobile CEO John Legere used this as a moment to poke at his rivals, noting that activating an Apple SIM-equipped iPad on his magenta network won't result in any carrier locking. If all else fails and your iPad's Apple SIM gets locked to AT&T or another carrier, never fear — the iPad itself is still unlocked. Swap it out with another SIM, even a new Apple SIM from Apple, and everything will be back to freedom.

Source: Apple (opens in new tab), John Legere (Twitter)

Derek Kessler is Special Projects Manager for Mobile Nations. He's been writing about tech since 2009, has far more phones than is considered humane, still carries a torch for Palm, and got a Tesla because it was the biggest gadget he could find. You can follow him on Twitter at @derekakessler.

22 Comments
  • Hmm.... This is kind of troublesome. It feels to me that Apple is losing it's market power. Although, on the flip side, this was a tall order to begin with, even for Apple. Oh well, I guess Apple SIM is now just a fancy way to switch between Sprint and T-Mobile.... Because you'd totally want to do that.
  • How can this even be legal? Imagine you buy a new computer and I create a website that if you visit it, your computer becomes permanently locked to my site and that is the only web site you can ever visit in the future and there is no way to unlock your computer. What would you call that? I would call it malware and I would expect to go to jail if I was foolish enough to try doing that. So how can AT&T take over a SIM that you own and lock it to their network? The entire value of the universal SIM is that you can use it on any network you want so AT&T has just broken it using something like a rootkit.
  • It's nothing like rootkit - it's a function built into the SIM card spec. Even if Apple had done away with the physical SIM card and made a virtual one as has been hinted at in the past, they'd have to keep feature commonality with the SIM card standard, so this would still be possible.
    Apple have said that the Apple SIM will be available free of charge at Apple Retail stores, so if you think you might want to switch away from AT&T in the future, go and get a spare one.
    The carriers still control access to their wireless networks. Some choose to make that easy and welcome all as a marketing differentiator, but some still don't. There's nothing illegal in that. There are no common carrier laws compelling them to make access available to competitors.
  • The free replacement makes me feel much better. So can I get one for my iPad Air?
  • How much does an Apple SIM cost? If the answer is "not much," this isn't a big deal IMHO. I would consider anything less than $30 to be fair play, personally. AT&T seems to be into locking in long-term customers, which isn't necessarily a bad thing if plans like the Mobile Share plan work for you.
  • Problem is, it's not locking to a share plan.. It's locking you even if you pick a temporary, month by month plan. That smells like a class action suit if I ever smelled one..
  • That kind of voids Apple's "multi-carrier" SIM-card purpose, doesn't it? Sent from the iMore App
  • I think most carriers will provide a sim at no charge to have you on their system. When my iPad arrives. Tuesday I plan to move the Verizon sim from my current ipad over to the Air2. Hope it is a seamless move.
  • I fully agree, because that make good sense. Some carriers still charge you for a SIM Card, as well as Activation Fee.
  • Just switch out the sim if your old iPad is on the lte service Sent from the iMore App
  • All that's happening here is AT&T is making itself look bad.
  • At first I thought AT&T was going to lock the iPad itself, maybe through a carrier settings update or something. This is only the SIM. No big deal.
  • I don't think any iPad gets locked.. I have two from att and they are both on contract and unlocked Sent from the iMore App
  • This is good. To the uninitiated who don't know what a Apple SIM is they would probably think they would have to change SIM cards when switching providers anyway.
  • Don't get me started on AT&T!!
  • Go ahead! Get started! I'll give you permission! Magenta is the new Yellow
  • AT&T is starting to sound like a jealous boyfriend. If I can't have you nobody can.
  • Typical AT&T behavior. This sort of thing is one of many reasons I left them.
  • Annoying. Let me give you my money when I need you and don't bother me anymore. Sent from the iMore App
  • The Sim Card Saga: The new Apple iPad Air 2 WiFi/Cellular is supposedly ready for connecting to all cell networks. NOT! Only for AT&T, Spring and T-Mobile, not Verizon. Last night around 8:30 I found a post stating that Verizon was not one of the carriers automatically linked to the iPad. This is following an hour of tech support with Verizon. As a result I had to go to the Apple Store to get it resolved.
    ~
    Off to the Apple Store today to get the Verizon Sim Card. Easy exchange, but diagnostics on the new iPad show the data (from the iTunes backup) was corrupted and I'd have to reset and start from scratch or restore from iCloud (12 to 24 hours max.). Additionally, when attempting to connect to the Verizon Network at the Apple Store, no success. "You have to go to a Verizon Store to have this resolved."
    ~
    Off to the Verizon Store I went. Andy at Verizon looked at it, did a few clicks on his computer and Voila! network connection.
    ~
    Back at home I'm backing up to iCloud from the 'old' iPad, then I'll dowload from iCloud all the data to the 'new' iPad.
    ~
    I pre-ordered the new unit to save myself the hassle of going to a store and waiting in line and having them set it up for me. Easy! As you can see . . . not so much. Lesson learned, I'll not pre-order again. Might as well do it the old way and get it done right. Sad tale of woe.
  • This is pretty much all blown out of proportion. I'd rather have different SIM cards anyway for different carriers. Why mess with all that over the a stuff when I can just swap SIMs in about 10 seconds flat?
  • This article explained this fiasco best to me. Not knowing how to swap out the Sim card, made this very stressful. I sure hope Apple has a couple of extra SIM cards. AT&T always did my Sim work. I guess it's a different time now.