Updated at 2:15 PM Pacific with response from Verizon Wireless.
The moment an iPad with LTE on Verizon was announced, people started to ask if you could pull your micro-SIM out of a Verizon Wireless smartphone, and use it in your iPad. And, if so, would there be any repercussions for doing so.
Of rules, regulations, and 700 MHz spectrum…
It’s no secret if you poke around, that you can pull your smartphone SIM card out and use it with all sorts of other devices. From the Galaxy Tab 10.1 LTE, to portable hotspot devices like the Novatel MiFi, people have been doing that for awhile. In fact, Verizon was required to…
Verizon appears to be abiding by spectrum auction terms set by the FCC, and is not kicking people off their data plans. The coveted 700 MHz spectrum that Verizon licensed had strings attached… powerful strings. Specifically, the auction rules forbid a carrier from blocking end-user device changes with serial-number restrictions.
In other words, the FCC wanted to ensure that if a user swapped LTE SIMs (when using the new spectrum) that it would be the consumer’s choice to do so, sans penalty.
Verizon is not, however, communicating this in very many forms. In a Verizon FAQ, Verizon did state that you can SIM-swap with any compatible LTE device. Note, they said device, not handset:
Q: Can I use my Verizon Wireless 4G SIM card in a 4G LTE device not purchased from Verizon Wireless?
A: Yes. You may activate any 4G LTE device that has been certified by Verizon Wireless to be compatible with our 4G LTE network, including devices not purchased directly from Verizon Wireless. Simply activate your 4G SIM card on a Verizon Wireless price plan.
On background, executives for Verizon Wireless confirmed that this was partly their vision; to allow customers to drop a SIM card into a broad range of LTE devices, pulled right out of their handset. Some use cases include LTE-enabled Digital SLRs that could be used for professional live reporting of video and photo streams.
Metered data appeared to also be part of this “vision” – but unlimited data users were the big question mark. Knowing the 700 MHz rules, Verizon allowed 3G smartphone customers with unlimited data to upgrade to LTE devices, and keep their unlimited data. In fact, Verizon has even waived throttling rules on unlimited data customers, for those that upgrade to an LTE smartphone (and even when they are on 3G EV-DO data).
Some feared that Verizon would, at some point, draw a line in the sand on their compliance with 700 MHz rules, especially in regards to grandfathered customers with unlimited data swapping devices.
After all, the carrier still appears to be at least, in part, participating in the blockade of iPhone on Page Plus Cellular and other Verizon MVNOs, contradicting commitments made to the FCC. While briefly allowing such activations, the situation was quickly reversed, and iPhone is still blocked. Verizon Wireless has not responded and/or declined all requests for comment from PhoneNews.com on that matter.
Getting to the iPad…
Now we get to the iPad. Many were concerned that iPad would mark a change to the policy. After asking Verizon a few times, and not getting an answer, we decided to fork over $700 of our own money, and get an answer.
We put our unlimited smartphone micro-SIM into our third-generation iPad, and powered it up. Setup went by smoothly, and after a few minutes of device provisioning… everything worked. All the device’s features worked perfectly over Verizon 3G and LTE. We were able to connect, pull up web sites, check email, without issue.
Oh, and one final thing…
We were also able to get the iPad’s mobile hotspot function working as well. Our in-house Verizon smartphone micro-SIM was also provisioned with Verizon’s special $30 grandfathered hotspot data option.
It’s not clear yet if iPad will hail in Verizon fixing mobile hotspot for those grandfathered bitter clingers, but we’ll certainly be testing over the next few weeks. We’ll follow up when we have reliable data on mobile hotspot on iPad with the grandfathered, unlimited hotspot option.
We have not tested the iPad on AT&T. AT&T may not be fully using 700 MHz spectrum for LTE yet, and as such may not need to abide by its terms for iPad. In either case, AT&T customers on unlimited grandfathered data will be subject to a 3 GB cap on data before being throttled.
PhoneNews.com contacted Verizon Wireless on several occasions, over several weeks, asking for comment on this report. Within hours of our report’s deadline, Verizon did state that they may provide comment shortly. We we share their comments as soon as we receive them.
Update: A spokesperson for Verizon Wireless provided the following response to our investigation.
When customers purchase devices from (Verizon Wireless), they also purchase the appropriate data plan. If they move the SIM to another device they are going to pay for the service they use regardless of the device they use it in.
We have asked Verizon to clarify what they mean by “appropriate”, specifically if Verizon plans any ramifications for customers that do put their smartphone SIM into an iPad (or any other LTE tablet/modem).
Follow-up: Following our report, Verizon further confirmed that grandfathered plans would not be affected or dropped by doing this. We go in-depth with Verizon’s subsequent statements, in a follow-up article.