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SIM Locked or Not SIM Locked, that is the iPad 3G question in Japan.

In order to get our facts in order, I’m going to recap what we’ve learned so far.

May 8: Softbank keeps iPad SIM Locked

As pre-orders are about to start in Japan, rumors that Softbank was able to keep the device SIM locked in Japan are turning out to be true.

IT media reporting on Softbank press announcement:

ところが、5月8日にソフトバンクモバイルが公表したiPad販売に関する情報では、日本国内のソフトバンクショップやソフトバンクケータイ取扱店で販売されるiPadのWi-Fi+3G版は、ソフトバンクモバイルの3Gネットワークでしか使えないように、SIMロックがかかっているというアナウンスがあった。

translating into

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.

The wording used by Softbank to the media outlets is quite clear: SIMロック

It only mentions iPad sold from Softbank shops since the Apple Store only sells the Wi-Fi versions.

May 10: DoCoMo abandons plans to sell iPad microSIMs

Since Softbank’s relation with DoCoMo suddenly became even more exclusive, DoCoMo announces it backs out from its plans to sell iPad microSIMs.

May 12: iPad in Japan Not Really SIM Locked

Thanks to a Mobile in Japan community member, we are able to report that Steve Jobs contradicts Softbank:

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

May 12: Apple changes its official iPad FAQ, adds to confusion

The official iPad FAQ is changed on that same day (the 3rd edit since it got online) and adds to the confusion, due to what can be described as clever wording. Indeed,

you cannot use a microSIM purchased overseas for an iPad in Japan

can be read in multiple ways.

Our commenters seem to be agree that it means that while abroad, one is free to switch microSIM, the iPad is tied to Softbank microSIM in Japan.

May 15: Steve Jobs says both Apple and Softbank websites are wrong

Kernel Panic gets another clarification from Steve Jobs

Our website and Softbank are wrong, and we are getting them the correct information ASAP. The website should be fixed soon. Sorry for the confusion.

Steve Jobs is basically saying that Softbank employees, mentioned in Gabe Glick‘s original email, should not have been saying the iPad 3G was locked nor that it wouldn’t work with any other microSIM than Softbank’s.

May 15: Wall Street Journal Confirms iPads only work with Softbank in Japan

Thanks to Yukari Iwatani Kane reaching out to Apple for the WSJ, it seems now a certainty that iPads can only be used with Softbank in Japan:

Japanese 3G iPads will only work with Softbank’s 3G service in Japan. But outside of Japan, those iPads are unlocked, so they can be used with SIMs for local carriers in their respective markets. Whether 3G iPads purchased outside of Japan will work in Japan will depend on the roaming agreement that the users’s home carrier has established in the country

May 16: Steve Jobs confirms the Japanese iPad works with international microSIMs

On 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 microSIM.

Only to learn, one email later, that there must be some software SIM lock.

Thanks for the reply. So Japanese 3G iPads are not SIM-locked at all, you are just forced to take out a Softbank contract. Is this correct?

No, not exactly.

May 17: Softbank’s CEO responds

Friend Hideki Francis Onda adds a nail into the coffin with a brilliant post summarizing the iPad in Japan situation.

Son Masayoshi, the operator CEO candidly admits the iPad exclusivity is due to the relative lack of robustness of his network compared to DoCoMo

We are at a disadvantage compared with NTT. We will lose massive customers if we did not lock the Japanese iPads to our network

Interestingly, he adds that he would consider unlocking the device if Softbank can get the 800MHz spectrum.

Softbank has a long history fighting for this band that the government doesn’t want to license again until 2015, but already used by DoCoMo and au/KDDI.

May 18: Apple updates the iPad FAQ for the umpteenth time

The new FAQ wording makes it clearer. In Japan, Softbank only!

3Gデータプランについてよくあるご質問
iPad Wi-Fi + 3GモデルはソフトバンクのSIMカードのみに対応していますか?

日本で発売されるiPad Wi-Fi + 3Gモデルは、日本で使用する場合、iPad向け3Gデータプランを提供しているソフトバンクのmicro-SIMカードのみに対応します。海外で使用する際は、その国で発売されているmicro-SIMカードもご利用になれます。
その他の通信事業者のmicro-SIMカードを使って、日本で発売されるiPad Wi-Fi + 3Gモデルを海外で利用できますか?

日本で発売されるiPad Wi-Fi + 3Gモデルは、日本国内ではソフトバンクの3Gデータサービスのみに対応します。その他の国内通信事業者のmicro-SIMカードには対応しません。海外では、その国の通信事業者が提供しているmicro-SIMカードとデータプランを利用して、日本で発売されるiPad Wi-Fi + 3Gモデルを使用することができます。
micro-SIMカードはどこで手に入れられますか?

直営店のApple Store、またはiPad正規販売店でiPad Wi-Fi + 3Gモデルと一緒にmicro-SIMカードを購入できます。(日本国外で購入したiPad用に、micro-SIMカードを購入することはできません。)

So, what do we know so far?

Any iPad 3G sold in Japan will be tied exclusively to Softbank while in Japan.

Any iPad 3G sold in Japan will have the ability to switch microSIM while outside of Japan (or to roam using Softbank microSIM).

Any iPad 3G bought outside of Japan won’t accept any Japanese microSIM, since Softbank is the sole microSIM vendor (at this point) and won’t sell the SIM & plans without an iPad.

It is unclear how Softbank is SIM locking iPads sold in Japan. A software lock is possible but not confirmed, but Steve Jobs remarks seems to indicate that there is more than a simple country contract exclusivity.

So, yeah, Steve Jobs was right all along: both Softbank’s iPad announcement (and customer relations) and Apple’s website (until today’s modification) were wrong. And misleading I should add.

Follow our complete iPad landing in Japan coverage

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