In the past, buyers of cellular enabled iPads have had to select their carrier at the time of purchase. However, with the release of the iPad Air 2 and iPad mini 3, Apple is introducing a new carrier-agnostic “Apple SIM” installed in devices sold in the U.S. and UK.
Apple’s iPad Air 2 wireless feature page:
One SIM. Many options.
The new Apple SIM is preinstalled on iPad Air 2 with Wi-Fi + Cellular models. The Apple SIM gives you the flexibility to choose from a variety of short-term plans from select carriers in the U.S. and UK right on your iPad. So whenever you need it, you can choose the plan that works best for you — with no long-term commitments. And when you travel, you may also be able to choose a data plan from a local carrier for the duration of your trip.
The Apple SIM is reportedly a traditional hardware SIM, and most likely works via having its identification number registered with each of the participating carriers.
The Apple SIM allows users in the U.S. to change carriers on a whim, moving between AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint, taking advantage of service needs and data deals as needed. As EE is participating in the UK, U.S. users can easily sign up for a temporary data plan when visiting the UK, avoiding expensive roaming data plans. UK users will also have the advantage of selecting any of the three participating U.S. carriers when visiting the states.
Currently, Verizon is the only major U.S. wireless carrier not participating in the Apple SIM scheme, so Verizon customers will need to visit their local Verizon store to activate cellular service on their devices.