Ed Andersen

Software Developer and Architect in Japan

Updated: Japan iPad 3G is NOT “not exactly” SIM-locked – Jobs says so

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There is a massive hullabaloo about Softbank’s exclusive deal with Apple for the 3G iPads here. Currently, you cannot get a 3G iPad without going through Softbank and signing up for a data plan (either 2 years or some terrible 4,000 yen per 1GB “offer”). This is in stark contrast to the fantastic deal Americans get in the US with AT&T.

Softbank appears to be announcing to the press that there will be a “SIM Lock” (SIMロック).



“According to information released by Softbank on May 8, iPad wi-fi+3G models sold from Softbank shops will be SIM locked so that they can only connect to Softbank Mobile’s network.

I think they are lying. I don’t believe that the devices are SIM locked in any way. The only “lock” is that you must sign up to Softbank to get one, and they won’t sell you a microSIM for an international model.

Mobileinjapan.com reported a response from Steve Jobs stating that

Actually, the version of iPad sold in Japan does accept international SIMs.

I decided to email him myself and I got a reply:


An email reply from Jobs appears to be a rite of passage for bloggers now – I have replied asking for clarity but he doesn’t appear to get into conversations unless you are really interesting (which I’m not).

Based on the reply above, are we meant to believe that they have developed a new SIM-locking system that unlocks your device when you leave Japan? Of course they haven’t, that would be stupid. If the devices are SIM-locked, then international microSIMs simply would not work in them. Therefore, they are not SIM-locked.

What I believe Jobs is referring to by “locking” is that you can only buy a 3G iPad after “locking” yourself into Softbank. Docomo and E-mobile (both with networks that would support the iPad) are now unable to sell wireless plans. Not because of any technical reason, but because they cannot sell the iPads themselves, and all 3G iPad owners will be locked into 2 year contracts.

This is why I don’t think the iPads are SIM locked – simply because they don’t have to be. Normal Japanese phones have carrier specific settings built in (access points, MMS gateways etc) with no way of changing them so switching a SIM card would never work. Softbank must be very scared of the prospect of the market opening up like Europe.

Update: Well, he replied.


Not exactly SIM-locked? What does that mean? Maybe they HAVE developed a new SIM locking system that uses the GPS to determine the country you are in, or iTunes unlocks the device when you insert a non-Japan microSIM.

Another update: The Softbank Sucks blog appears to think that there is a software lock on Japanese iPads (possibly all iPads?) that is only active when the SIM Mobile Country Code is Japan’s. Meaning, if the SIM is a Japanese SIM, it must be a Softbank SIM. Absolutely appalling if true. The only way Docomo would be able to get around it is if they lied about the country code on their SIMs.

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Hi! 👋 I’m a Software Developer, Architect and Consultant living in Japan, building web and cloud apps. Here I write about software development and other things I find interesting. Read more about my background.

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6 responses to “Updated: Japan iPad 3G is NOT “not exactly” SIM-locked – Jobs says so”

  1. Here is my interpretation of the information available:

    APN details include MMC (mobile country code) and MNC (mobile network code). For example, in setting up an APN to use docomo’s bizhoudai unlimited data plan, two of the pieces of information needed are Japan’s MMC (440) and Docomo’s MNC (10 is what I am using).

    I think it would be pretty simple to include a line of code in the base band that deny APN connections to any MNC other that is not softbank if the country code is 440.

  2. GPS enabled SIM lock is an interesting concept….until you go into settings and turn off Location Services – then what?
    It’s weird that they are being elusive surrounding it though, like you say, it’s a case that they are either locked or not, there isn’t much of a middle ground on the matter.

    It’ll be interesting to see what will happen in the coming months when Japanese phones are starting to become unlocked, I don’t know how much that will affect the ipad (if at all?) but we shall see.

    the 3G iPad plans in Japan are such a shame, it could have been amazingly useful, but they’ve just kept it the same as before.

  3. Apple have created the ultimate in hardware locking – GPS based country detect, coupled with restriction lists for carriers!

    Sounds like something fishy is happening….

  4. […] the following day, Ed Andersen gets the same confirmation from Steve Jobs himself: It is locked to Softbank in Japan, but you can use any international […]

  5. yukster Avatar

    Actually, GPS isn’t required for location services. I believe they can do that with cell tower triangulation, which would give away the fact you are in Japan…

    BTW, am I missing something? From my understanding, Emobile is a pure 1700 MHz carrier, and their sim would not work in any 2100 MHz phone whether its an iPad/iPhone or some other 3G phone.

  6. Any update to this story? I’m moving to Japan this fall from Thailand and wondering if I should bring my 3G iPad or not. If I do bring it will it can I get a data only plan from Softbank?

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