October 30, 2014

Buying a New iPad? Get the Awesome, Unlocked Verizon Model!

I’ve always loved my Wi-Fi iPad, but the Verizon LTE iPad (third-generation) is too awesome to overlook. Apart from the “retina” display and voice dictation, the killer app is unlocked roaming on just about any carrier network. Yes, you can use your Verizon iPad Verizon iPad on AT&T, Vodafone, or even Verizon!

Real Carrier Flexibility, Even in United States

The United States mobile phone market is not consumer friendly, to put it mildly. We have a long history of carrier locked devices, long contracts, and restrictive plans. As if this wasn’t bad enough, the carrier technology and frequency picture is even worse: the Verizon and Sprint networks are incompatible with international GSM standards, and T-Mobile uses nonstandard frequencies for their “4G” HSPA+ network.

For consumers, this makes buying any kind of mobile device an expensive, multiyear commitment. If the contract or carrier lock doesn’t get you, the technology and frequencies will. This restrictive environment is something people from other countries have trouble comprehending, but Americans have grown to accept it.

What is needed is a “wonder device” that supports the widest possible diversity of mobile technologies and frequencies:

  • “2G” GSM (AT&T and T-Mobile) and 1xRTT (Verizon and Sprint)
  • “3G” HSPA (AT&T and T-Mobile) and WCDMA (Verizon and Sprint)
  • “4G” HSPA+ (AT&T and T-Mobile) and LTE (AT&T and Verizon)

Behold the Wonder Device

Apple has been instrumental in breaking consumers from this carrier monopoly, though perhaps they could do more if it wasn’t for the big dollars they get from carrier subsidies. Already, Apple sells unlocked iPhones in the United States, and every iPad comes out of the box unlocked even though most consumers don’t know that.

There are currently two models of “Wi-Fi + 4G” iPad for sale:

  • Wi-Fi + 4G for AT&T
  • Wi-Fi + 4G for Verizon

Each device obviously supports the technology and frequencies of the named carrier. In the case of the AT&T iPad, this means their 700/2100 MHz LTE network and 2G/3G GSM-based network. Verizon’s device obviously works on their all-700 MHz LTE network and 800/1900 MHz 2G/3G CDMA network.

But many consumers do not know that the Verizon device also supports all the AT&T 2G/3G frequencies. Even though the AT&T iPad lacks compatibility with Verizon’s network, this does not hold true in the opposite direction!

Model for AT&T Model for Verizon
4G LTE 700, 2100 MHz (AT&T only) 700 MHz (Verizon only)
3G UMTS/HSPA/HSPA+/DC-HSDPA 850, 900, 1900, 2100 MHz
2G GSM/EDGE 850, 900, 1800, 1900 MHz
2G/3G CDMA EV-DO Rev. A No 800, 1900 MHz

That’s right, the Verizon iPad supports all the AT&T (2G and 3G/”4G”) and T-Mobile (2G only for now) frequencies and technologies, and it’s even unlocked! To prove this, I took the micro-SIM out of my AT&T iPhone 4S and, after installing an appropriate APN profile, got online at “4G” using AT&T’s HSPA+ network.

I haven’t tried a T-Mobile SIM, but reports indicate it works at 2G “EDGE” speed. And it should work great on most international 3G networks at full speed. And it ought to work fine on Straight Talk in the US too.

The Verizon iPad is only slightly short of being a true “do everything” wonder device: First, obviously, it’s not a phone and it’s kind of big to carry around. Second, it doesn’t work on the US T-Mobile network at 3G/”4G” speed yet, though T-Mobile is realigning their frequencies to fix that. Finally, the LTE interoperability picture doesn’t look good, and the iPad will likely never work on any LTE network but Verizon’s.

Free Personal Hotspot Tethering Too!

As if the unlocked/world-compatible picture wasn’t good enough, here’s the knockout reason to buy the Verizon iPad: It includes “Personal Hotspot” support (also known as tethering) for free!

AT&T doesn’t even offer tethering on their 4G iPad. If they did, they’d likely charge an extra $20 per month like they do with their iPhones.

Add up the cost of data and tethering on Verizon and AT&T (if they ever offer tethering) and the service fee really seals the deal. I love the flexible data plans on the iPad, too: Just pay for some data and it’s good for a month. If you run out, pay for some more. Why don’t phones work like this?

Note that Personal Hotspot service is tied to the carrier. If you swap an AT&T SIM into your Verizon iPad you don’t get to tether on AT&T. This is a bummer to folks like me who have grandfathered unlimited data plans on AT&T, though the company has started actively limiting these “unlimited” accounts anyway.

It’s unclear how the Verizon iPad handles being overseas, though I’ll find out next month. I’m traveling in the UK and plan to pick up a cheap micro-SIM for the iPad while I’m there. If it works as a Personal Hotspot, I might not need to reactivate my trusty Three Mifi!

Stephen’s Stance

The Verizon LTE iPad is a no-brainer. It’s compatible with just about every mobile network in the world and includes free tethering (on Verizon at least). It’s so good, I’m not sure if the average person really needs to buy a MiFi anymore: The incremental cost for an LTE iPad is about the same as the MiFi hardware, and the iPad data plans are much more flexible.

  • Tom12010

    nice but how long before they all disable this??

  • ScooterComputer

    The 3 bullet points before “Behold the Wonder Device” incorrectly list Apple rather than AT&T.

  • karakuzo

    what about the sprint version of ipad? are they also compatible with at&t, tmobile network?

  • Rico

    Is this the case with the iPad mini for verizon as well?

  • ScottyAZ

    So I bought an “unlocked” Sprint Gen4 iPad 128GB (ME411LL/A) for cheap and was hoping to use it on Verizon (my family plan). So far its a bust. The Verizon Store and Customer Support won’t touch it!

    I found online that folks are taking active Verizon 4G LTE SIM cards and popping them into other LTE devices and having success.

    I just happen to have a Verizon JetPack 4G LTE hotspot. I pulled the mini-SIM, cut it down to micro (re-verified it still works in the hotspot) and popped it into the iPad. I can get Verizon 3G, but no better.

    Any thoughts?

    I found that Verizon LTE is 700 MHz and Sprint LTE is 800 MHz. Is this a showstopper?