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If I purchase a Wi-Fi + 3G model of the iPad 2 in the U.S., can I use the 3G service outside of the U.S.? If so, in which countries and how would I go about doing so? For what it's worth, I am specifically interested in using the iPad 2 in Japan.

My question is related to Will an iPad 2 3G from UK work on a Poland's (or another country's) 3G network? I was a bit troubled by the following quote in the answer.

The broader situation is that the only problematic (less interoperable) 3G iPad is the Verizon-specific model sold in the USA

Does this mean that any iPad 2 purchased in the U.S. is incompatible with 3G service abroad?

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3 Answers 3

up vote 3 down vote accepted

A GSM iPad should work in any country where GSM carriers operate and offer data plans.

mobileworldlive.com is a great resource. They have a list which is up-to-date with live and planned availability as well as supported frequencies.

Of course you can use your iPad in any country where your carrier has roaming agreements. But at a very high rate. And you might have to call your carrier in advance to activate the option. But this will cost you much more than getting your data access from a local carrier.

If you chose to get your data access from a local carrier here are a few things to consider:

  • The carrier will not necessarily offer a micro SIM. In that case you will have to trim the sim to the right dimensions yourself.
  • You will have to setup the APN settings yourself on most networks.
  • Internet access could mean something else than data plan. Beware of obsolete offers with WAP or very limited access.
  • Some carriers will have better coverage than others. Check the coverage of each carrier before committing.
  • Some carriers will not sell prepaid data.
  • In some countries there could be restrictions for foreigners or non residents and you might have to get your SIM from someone who can buy it for you.

Does this mean that any iPad 2 purchased in the U.S. is incompatible with 3G service abroad?

No. The GSM version (AT&T) will work in most countries. The same cannot be said of the CDMA version (Verizon).

Wikipedia tels us the iPad supports UMTS / HSDPA (850, 1900, 2100 MHz) GSM / EDGE (850, 900, 1800, 1900 MHz)

Two networks are referenced as providing support for GSM based 3G in japan :

  • NTT DOCOMO, INC. (DOCOMO) 3G on 2100 MHz
  • SOFTBANK MOBILE Corp. (SoftBank) 3G 2100 MHz

Note: I would recommend a 3rd party solution if you go abroad for a short period of time. There are mobile WiFi modems like the huawei-mifi-e585 that could offer a better alternative if you need internet access on more than one device at a time.

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Purchasing iPad 2 Wi-Fi + 3G in US you have two 3G options — Verizon and AT&T.

AT&T model supports UMTS/HSDPA/HSUPA (850, 900, 1900, 2100 MHz); GSM/EDGE (850, 900, 1800, 1900 MHz). And Verizon does CDMA EV-DO Rev. A (800, 1900 MHz).

Since iPhone 3G and above model that Apple was selling in Japan is UMTS I believe you should pick AT&T model to be safe. Even if you'll be able to use Verizon model in Japan (not sure), still with UMTS (AT&T) model you will definitely have better luck finding supported network. Here is a list of UMTS networks around the world. Even if there is no 3G coverage it will fallback to EDGE and GPRS.

iPad comes unlocked.

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There is no simple answer. In general, an 3G iPad2 can work in any country that supports 3G on one of the frequencies supported by the iPad2. A Verizon iPad2 can work in countries that have compatible CDMA networks with data roaming agreements with Verizon. The big gotcha is that international data roaming charges are extremely expensive on US carriers (for example, Verizon charges $5/MB) so taking more than an occasional, small sip from the data pipe is impractical for non-billionaires. Regular folks need to get a micro-SIM and a data plan from a local carrier. The Verizon iPad doesn't use a SIM, it's not really an option for this approach.

As far as Japan goes, DoCoMo and Softbank support 3G but everything I read makes me think it's not possible for short-term visitors to actually buy a micro-SIM from these carriers. Your only practical option might be to get a roaming SIM from somebody like https://www.iphonetrip.com/. It's much more expensive than a local micro-SIM option but much, much, much less expensive than data roaming on AT&T or Verizon.

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Don't know where you getting it from: mb.softbank.jp/mb/ipad_en/price_plan/prepaid seems like a prepaid plan albeit with monthly charges. I can't find on their site that foreigner can't use it. –  iskra Nov 2 '11 at 0:24
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