How to Fix an iPad When It Says It "Could Not Activate"by Jen Cordwainer
When you first set up an iPad, it will attempt to connect to Apple's servers via Wi-Fi to activate your device and connect to services such as iTunes and iCloud. This can be an issue if you don't have access to a wireless Internet connection. Alternatively, you can complete the activation by plugging your iPad into your computer with the USB cable and launching iTunes. However, you might still encounter software issues that result in a "Could not activate" error.
Activate with iTunes
If a Wi-Fi signal is unavailable or intermittent in your current location, you will need to activate your iPad using iTunes. Launch iTunes, visit the "iTunes" menu and click "Check for Updates." This will verify whether you have the most up-to-date software on your computer. Download and install available iTunes updates and then plug your iPad into the computer. Choose "iPad" from the list of devices and select "Set up as new iPad" or "Restore from the backup of...," click on "Continue" and type in a custom name for your iPad device. Check off your app and music syncing preferences and click "Done."
A hard reset may resolve software or network connection errors that can lead to activation issues. Hold down the "Home" button and the "Sleep/Wake" button simultaneously until the Apple logo appears. Begin the set up process again and choose an available Wi-Fi network. If you do not have access to Wi-Fi, connect your iPad to your computer and use iTunes to attempt the activation.
Public Wi-Fi Obstacles
Public Wi-Fi networks in locations such as hotels, cafes and airplanes will often require a sign-in before use. Generally, these prompts will pop up when you first select a Wi-Fi network, requesting that you agree to the provider's terms of service. However, your iOS browser is not accessible during the iPad set up process, preventing you from signing into the Wi-Fi service. If you are unable to connect to public Wi-Fi, leave the network connection list unchecked and press "Next." The iPad will ask if you wish to continue without Wi-Fi. Press "Continue" and finish the iPad setup. Once your Home screen appears, press "Settings" and choose the public Wi-Fi network. Next, open Safari and complete the Wi-Fi sign in process. Activate your iPad by signing into your Apple services. Launch the iTunes app on your iPad. Sign in using your Apple ID. Open "Settings," tap "ICloud" and sign in again.
IOS Developer Versions
Activation errors are common amongst devices running developer versions of iOS. Log into your developer account and make sure that the correct UDID is registered for your device. You might also receive activation errors if you are running an unauthorized version of a beta iOS. If so, you will need to restore your iPad back to the current iOS using iTunes.