Apple SIM and more flexible data plans

(c) 2014, Apple (from their website)The new US and UK iPad Air 2 and Mini iPad 3’s now come with a new, programable SIM (see wikipedia SIM article for more info) card for their cellular data services. This is a first in the industry and signals a new movement to more flexible cellular data plans.

Currently, the iPad 2 Apple SIM card supports AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile in the US (what no Verizon?) and EE in the UK. With this new flexibility one can switch iPad data carriers anytime, seemingly right on the phone without having to get up from your chair at all. You no longer need to go into a cellular vendor’s store and get a new SIM card and insert the new SIM card into your iPad Air 2.

It seems not many cellular carriers are be signed up to the new programmable SIM cards. But with the new Apple SIM’s ability to switch data carriers in an instant, can the other data carriers hold out for long.

What’s a little unclear to me is how the new Apple SIM doesn’t show support for Verizon but the iPad 2 Air literature does show support for Verizon data services. After talking with Apple iPad sales there is an actual SIM card slot in the new iPads that holds the new Apple SIM card and if you want to use Verizon you would need to get a SIM card from them and swap out the Apple SIM card for the Verizon SIM card and insert it into the iPad Air 2.

Having never bought a cellular option for my iPad’s this is all a little new to me. But it seems that when you purchase a new iPad Air 2 wifi + cellular, the list pricing is without any data plan already. So you are free to go to whatever compatible carrier you want right out of the box. With the new Apple SIM the compatible US carriers are AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint. If you want a Verizon data plan you have to buy a Verizon iPad.

For AT&T, it appears that you can use  their Dataconnect cellular data service for tablets on a month by month basis. I assume the same is true for  T-Mobile who makes a point of not having any service contract even for phones.  Not so sure about Sprint but if AT&T offer it can Sprint be far behind.

I have had a few chats with the cellular service providers and I would say they are not all up to speed on the new Apple SIM capabilities but hopefully they will get there over time.

Now if Apple could somehow do the same for cable data plans or cable TV providers, they really could change the world – Apple TV anyone?


AT&T personal hotspot on iPhone

My iPhone in Settings App
My iPhone in Settings App

I have been tied to local WIFI hot spots at most hotels and other venues for quite awhile but a recent trip to Japan where WiFi was less available, got me thinking about getting a Verizon MiFi or other personal internet device.  Some of my friends swear by the Verizon MIFI and others swear at it.

But I am sick and tired of paying $10/day for WIFI at a hotel or other venue where I happen to be at.  So I decided to go after AT&T’s hotspot for the iPhone.

I have been an iPhone user for a couple of years now and had grandfathered in an “unlimited data plan” which cost $30/month but to get the hotspot option I had to give that up for a 4GB/month which came with the hotspot option (DataPro 4GB for iPhone).

I looked back at some of my recent AT&T bills and I have been using around 250MB/month so thought this wasn’t going to be a problem. But then again, I don’t watch a lot of Netflix or Youtube video on my iPhone (at least not yet).

It turns out the iPhone hotspot has three operating modes:

  • WiFi – which allows up to 5 users to use your password protected WiFi broadcast from the iPhone.  I tried it at home and at a conference center (with lot’s of other networks active and was able to find the network without problem.
  • BlueTooth – I especially like this mode but you have to have bluetooth on for the phone and the computers you want to connect with.  Mac OSX seemed to make the blue tooth connection without problem and it was almost automatic
  • Tethered – this is where you connect your phone to the computer you are supplying internet access.  I found this approach worked great in most situations and as I looked around a recent conference hall there seemed to be a lot of laptops connected to an iPhone probably doing the same thing.

I was a little worried about AT&T’s signal strength. At home it’s not that great but I found most conferences I attend seem to be just fine.  (AT&T is offering me a free microcell for the home all I have to do is supply power and internet…).  I suppose in some major cities this can be a problem but most places I sit down to check email and other stuff on my phone AT&T’s signal strength is ok.

What about usage?

It was so easy to turn on and off (see Settings, 3rd line down from top) that I was using it only when I needed to.  My usage for the last 30days has been ~350MB received and ~60MB (according to the iPhone) sent so that is something I am going to have to watch a little more but with 4GB I seem to have room to grow.  It turns out I was at the conference for 2 nights and 3 days, but WiFi during at the convention center was free so I only used the hotspot at night or when the other WiFi was unavailable (sporadically during the day). So I seem to be using about another5 50MB of bandwidth for each night’s (probably a couple of hours) worth of work.   Which seems to say I could do this for the whole month and still have ~2.8X more bandwidth.

Well for the $15 a month extra, it seems a good deal and the best part about it is, I don’t have to haul yet another electronic device (like the MiFi) with yet another power cord/adapter. Its all tied to my iPhone which I carry around anyways.


All in all, I like the iPhone AT&T personal hotspot option.