back to article Carrier-sold iPad 2 Sim locks snag unwary buyers

Buying an iPad 2 from a network operator - or one of its third-party resellers - comes at a price beyond the cost of the data contract and the hardware, it seems: the 'magical... again' gadgets are Sim-locked. So says Reg Hardware reader Ryan who, having tracked down an iPad 2 at his local Phones4U - he had to stump up for the …


This topic is closed for new posts.
  1. JDX Gold badge


    How exactly do they lock the iPad in the first place?

    1. Chad H.

      Same way as a mobile phone

      After all, thats effectively what it is under the guts.

      The Device is programmed to only work if the SIM card's operatior flag matches what it expects.

  2. Annihilator Silver badge

    In Apple's defence..

    It's entirely down to Orange. Though you could no doubt argue that Apple shouldn't even let them be lockdownable (I like making up words). Orange are and always have been the worst when it comes to locking phones. Not sure if they insist on only Orange-specific phones working on their network? They certainly used to..

  3. Fuzzysteve

    All, I would expect it to be unlocked.

    As in, that's how I would /want/ it to be.

    After all, my phone from O2 came unlocked. It's not that uncommon for contract phones to be unlocked. You're locked into the carrier until the contract is over, at least as far as paying goes.

    1. rcdicky

      Must be an old phone then...

      O2 USED to only lock their PAYG handsets, leaving the contract one's unlocked

      Hasn't been that way for a while now though. Both contract and PAYG handsets are locked to O2 (pretty sure it's same across all networks now), you're phone is locked to them until you pay for the unlock code (again, same across all networks)

      I've had a Nokia N8, Blackberry and an iPhone 4 from them and they were all locked

  4. Jonathan White


    Isn't this pretty much true of all phones and other 3G gadgets? If you buy it from a carrier it'll be locked to that carrier. If you want unlocked you have to buy from somewhere like Expansys or (in the case of JobsGadgets) the Apple Shop. I wouldn't trust the shopdrone to tell me what day it is truthfully, especially not P4U or CFW.

    1. Chad H.

      Not Always

      Several carriers sell handsets unlocked if they're from a specific "Contract stock" on the thinking that since you're locked in by contract, locking your handset seems superflous.

      Some Networks only lock high demand or exclusive phones on contract (O2 with iPhone 4 locked theirs citing high demand and refused to unlock them until demand lessened), others them all all.

    2. Tom 38 Silver badge

      Yeah, but no, but yeah

      Yes, most phones come like that. But why should they is the point. If you agree to a 24 month contract, you have to honour that contract whether you put the sim in the phone/tablet or not. So why lock it down?

      Just makes it harder to use. Eg, if I'm in France for a while, I'll swap out my O2 ipad sim for a France Telecom one, and wibble wibble, I'm away. I'm still having to pay O2 for the contract, even though the SIM isn't in the device. If it was a locked device, I couldn't do that, even though it does not affect the bottom line of my main carrier.

      +1 on not believing the drones though. Although, if they specifically told him it was unlocked, and it wasn't, surely that counts as some sort of mis-selling? Easy tip, make sure you buy stuff like this over the phone or online, and then go in-store to pick it up. Then, if there is anything wrong with it (ie that you don't like, not defects), you have 7 days to take it back under distance selling regs.

    3. Danny 14 Silver badge


      if it was RRP/apple store price then I would be pissed. If it was subsidised then of course it will be locked. It wasnt really stated in the article how much the ipad cost.

    4. Anonymous Coward

      except for O2

      All my O2 phones have been unlocked.

  5. ukpm


    This is an error with the activation server. He should bring his iPad and purchase receipt to an Apple retail store, if there's one nearby. They will correct the error on the database and reactivate it. Alternatively if you restore the iPad using iTunes with the alternative SIM installed, it will we be reactivated again, but without the carrier lock.

    This happens with SIM-free iPhones as well, if they have been activated by Apple in-store and the customer subsequently inserts a SIM from another carrier. They must connect the iPhone to iTunes to continue. The base of the problem is the iPhone cannot connect to the activation server without iTunes; it must communicate with the server to determine the status of the provider lock. This is something that really needs to change.

    1. Ryan K
      Thumb Up


      Thanks ukpm, I will check this out! Hopefully it is just a error with the activation server. However, I did phone Apple support, and they told me that Orange locked the device, they are not involved in this process and Orange are the only people who can unlock it. However, upon calling Orange, they confirmed that they can unlock it, but that they won't do it until the end of June, which leaves me with unusable Orange 3G for 3 months!

      I don't have an apple store in my city, although there is a Stormfront (a franchised Apple store - they do limited repairs and stuff) so hopefully they will be able to help me. In regards to the posters asking how much I paid, I bought the 64Gb 3G model, so paid £650, and then paid a tenner for the sim. I wasn't expecting it to be unlocked as I did buy the iPad outright, and I did ask specifically if I could cancel the contract and go with a different provider, and was told I could. I only even went with Orange as I was being a typical impatient Apple customer and wanted to use the iPad straight away without going home, which is why I got Stormfront to activate it for me in the first place. :)

      Basically, this is all the fault of Phones4U in my opinion, with a smattering of blame to Orange for being the worst network ever (probably barring AT&T in America!). Orange charge £5 a month for a data connection with a 250Mb Cap and data speeds of about half a meg, providing I can even get a 3G signal, which is sporadic. Three on the other hand get speeds of up to 4Mbps, or at least my colleague gets this sat 2 meters away from me with his HTC Desire HD, and have a data cap of 1Gb a month, for £7.50.

      1. Ryan K
        Thumb Up

        Update 2

        Ooops I meant, "I wasn't expecting it to be LOCKED"!

  6. Robert Synnott

    RE: wuh?

    Initially, though, all iPads were sold unlocked (and indeed weren't sold by telcos at all for a few months), so there's a potential for consumer confusion.

  7. anon01789


    surely saying they are unlocked when they are is a false pretence so the sale should be void

  8. Tom Samplonius
    Thumb Down

    Read your own articles

    Actually, The Register reported on this about a week before the iPad2 launch. The iPad1 was not locked, even when sold by carriers as Apple only offered unlocked units. But Apple has reversed this policy, and now makes carrier specific models that are locked to those carriers.

    I was hoping that Apple would get more customer friendly. If I've received a carrier subsidy for my iPad2, I'm already locked in by a contract. But preventing customers from temporarily swapping in a different SIM while traveling is just mean spirited.

  9. John Riddoch

    Should get a refund...

    If the store rep said it was unlocked, then it's not as advertised, nor is it "fit for given purpose"; if Ryan asked that then it's reasonable to assume he may want to use an alternate carrier's SIM.

  10. Gordon 10 Silver badge

    Well Duh

    In other news the sky is blue and the sun will set. Most networks still lock the iPhone why would the 3G iPad be any different.

  11. Matt 4


    If it's on contract and like the iphone you can get it unlocked by orange after 3 months or so for £20

    Remember if it's on contract you don't own it until you've finished the contract.

    O2 unlock for free as long as you keep paying the contract.

    Don't know about 3

  12. Steve Evans


    That's a bit odd, I thought Phones4U always supplied unlocked phones, they certainly have with the two mobiles I bought from them (on Orange contract upgrades), and it's one of the things I checked the other month when enquiring about my latest upgrade.

    Guess you can't take anything for granted these days, and should ask... And if he did and the Phones4U salesman did say it was unlocked, and it isn't, then Ryan has some pretty good come back in the shape of the extensive UK sales of good act... assuming he can overcome his fruity addiction enough to hand it back.

  13. Ashley Stevens

    How much?

    How much did he pay? If he paid full retail price then he has a right to expect it to be unlocked. But if it was subsidized then he should expect it to be locked.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    The moral: if you want an unlocked device, don't buy it from a carrier or one of its agents.

    If you don't want a crapware riddled, and reconfigured user interface (and screwed up user experiance) on any device.

    Don't buy from a carrier.

  15. Cool Hand Luke

    Why bother with 3G iPads anyway?

    The only reason I can see for paying the extra over a none 3G iPad is if you don't have a smartphone. There is always the exception to the rule, but I bet most people who would be interested in an iPad would also own some sort of smartphone.

    I took advantage of the £100 discount and got myself an original iPad, 32GB wifi only. I figured that I would either be in the house, wifi available or if for some reason I was away from a wifi network then I would use my HTC desire as the 3G gateway as I always have my phone on me when I'm out and about.

    This solution works like a dream for me. Like when we all buy a new shiney thing we want to start using it ASAP. Handily iPads come charged, so I was able to sit in the car with my new ipad linked over wifi to my HTC acting as a wireless hotspot. I was browsing and e-mailing like a happy little jobsian in no time.

    1. Alan Edwards
      Thumb Up

      Re: Why bother with 3G iPads anyway?

      Came in handy last night.

      The power failed, so the wireless router went down. Turn the mobile data on the iPad on, and carry on regardless.

      Admittedly it does spend 99% of it's life on wifi of some sort, though.

  16. Ryan K

    Update 3

    Just had a call from Phones4U, and they have kindly authorised a return, but I have to do it 'as soon as possible'. Whether this result is due this article or not is hard to say, but I'm sure it didn't hurt. :)

    If ukpm's suggestions don't work I shall return my iPad 2, and then the biggest question will be whether to buy (if I can get one anywhere) an unlocked iPad 2, or whether to hold out for a week or two and then get a Motorola Xoom. I have to say that despite Apple's claims, the number of decent iPad only apps are minimal, and the iphone apps just look pretty poor upscaled, whereas the Android upscaled apps actually look a lot better! I've spent the last couple of evenings browsing the app store, and I still only have 2 pages of apps that are half decent, and other than infinity blade there's nothing really to show off the improved processor in the iPad 2 at the moment.

    1. ukpm

      Carrier lock

      I thought I'd quiz my Orange contract manager whilst on the phone earlier today about this lock issue on the iPad 2. He confirmed that iPads sold under contract sales would normally be locked regardless of the supply price or method, but that devices supplied by Orange on a SIM only plan i.e. supply only of the iPad should not be locked. If a SIM only device is locked then it's an activation issue that you'll need to take up with the retailer in your case, or Orange if you bought directly.

      As a point of interest, all GSM iPads and iPhones are supplied to carriers and customers UNLOCKED. The carrier lock is applied during the activation process, where iTunes actually looks up a database to find how the device was provisioned. In theory, if you could activate a new iPad or iPhone without contacting the official servers, you would side-step the application of these locks. However, I don't believe the certificates for the iTunes activation system have been cracked - yet.

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Orange iPad 2

    I have had this issue too. Orange are hopeless and I am having to resort to legal action to sort.

    See thread link attached.

  18. Spinstorm
    Thumb Up

    Same Problem but Apple sorted it out for me!

    I had exactly the same problem, bought a full price 64GB 3G and didn't pay for a SIM.

    It was locked to orange.

    Made a genius appointment and it took me a good 40 minutes but eventually a manager simply gave me a brand new unlocked iPad.

    I was amazed and did not expect that.

    I'd strongly suggest you travel however many hours to your nearest apple store and make an appointment and see what happens. There is no guarantee that you will get a new iPad but it's worth a try! Good luck.

    1. Danny 14 Silver badge


      make an appointment to complain that your basic sale of goods act has been breached.

      Most amusing.

    2. ukpm


      Agreed... the fastest way to sort this out is in an Apple store. Worth a trip!

  19. Ryan K

    Update 4

    Hi All,

    I tried ukpm's suggestion of restoring the iPad and inserting a new SIM, but it didn't have any of it. In fact, it just ended up getting stuck in DFU Mode.

    That was the final straw really. I have a jailbroken iPhone, and I just couldn't get used to not being able to do any of the things I am used to doing with my iPhone due to Apple's unnecessary restrictions. Anyone would think North Korea made iPads to ship to South Korea the amount the thing won't let you do in comparison to a jailbroken or android device. I wanted to copy a bunch of films I had to the iPad, but that requires jumping through multiple hoops, at different heights, wearing clown shoes with butter smeared on the bottom of them. Just trying to copy across a folder full of photos using iTunes was more awkward than watching your gran perform the Karma Sutra in public. iTunes just wanted to overwrite all the photos on the device just to upload a few more, and it was this point I really decided that enough was enough.

    I spent all but a week trawling the app store and finding very few worthwhile apps for the iPad, so in my mind, all the reviews and articles about the Android 3.0 tablets not having any apps are pretty moot points as there's hardly anything decent available for the iPad 2 either. With multiple devices on the horizon that will be using Honeycomb, I don't think it will take too long for the Android store to catch up, and in the mean time, I'll be able to consume whatever media I want by dragging and dropping it on to the tablet, instead of running what I like to call 'The Never Ending Gauntlet of Apple Sync Pain'. Not terribly catchy, but I'm sure if you own a iDevice you have already experienced the difficulty of getting iTunes to sync exactly what you want it to without mysteriously removing other things that you didn’t want removing.

    Anyway, I took the iPad 2 back to Phones4U, and they were brilliant. I have to say that they have treated me fantastically well, and if I'm honest, this whole experience has left me with good feelings about them. Everybody was really nice, and the manager even offered to buy my smart cover off me if the Stormfront store would not give me a refund. And, as a goodwill gesture he even refunded the tenner I paid for the SIM card! If I ever get a contract phone again, I’ll almost certainly go with them, just due to the service that they have provided every step of the way, and before you ask, I haven’t been paid off, nor did exotic dancers with nothing but skimpy Phones4U vests turn up at my door.

    Spinstorm, I could have travelled for an hour and a half road trip to sort out the iPad 2, but the truth is that after a week of playing with it, I was disappointed with what you get for your money. £650 is a pretty reasonable gaming rig, a half decent laptop or the weekend of your life in Thailand, and unfortunately the iPad seems to be inferior unless all you need it for it playing Angry Birds while the girlfriend feasts her eyes and dulls her brain on Eastenders or whatever cookery show seems to be on the TV at the time. It’s fine having a thing of beauty, but the way I see it in my mind is that it’s not much different from having a vacuous model for a wife – sure it looks pretty, but try and get it to do something useful other that look pretty, and you’ll just get moaning and strife, and probably gonads in the lightning.

This topic is closed for new posts.

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2021