The iPad 2 was announced earlier this week, and like its predecessor, there are WiFi-only and 3G+WiFi versions available. While Apple is offering 3G wireless models for both AT&T and Verizon, you have to pick one or the other – there is no “hybrid” model available. Since both the AT&T models and the Verizon models cost the same, we are left to determine which network offers the best data plan?
Is Wi-Fi Only A Better Option?
It is important to note that you don’t need to get an iPad with 3G; getting the WiFi-only version will save you $130 on similar sized models. If you’re not really on the go a lot and have wi-fi available where you’ll mainly use the iPad, you just may be paying for a feature you don’t need.
However, don’t underestimate how useful a constantly connected iPad can be. 3G does untether you from wi-fi only locations, so you may not totally know the impact of where you would use the iPad until you have one.
The nice thing about 3G on the iPad is that there are no long-term contracts. They’re monthly “pay as you go” plans, so you pay for a month when you need it, and don’t pay when you don’t need the data service. A huge plus is that you don’t even have to step foot in an AT&T or Verizon store to set up service – you can sign up and activate your 3G service from the iPad itself.
Here’s the 3G data plans AT&T and Verizon offers:
The cheapest offering from either Verizon or AT&T is pretty much useless unless your internet use is light—and I do mean light, or you just need to supplement your normal wi-fi usage. A more realistic base price comparison is between AT&T’s ($25.00 / 2GB) versus Verizon’s ($35 / 3GB / $10 per GB over) plans. AT&T comes in a $12.50 per GB, and Verizon at $11.66 per GB.
AT&T only offers a maximum of 2GB a month on their 3G iPad service plans. While that may be enough for iPhone usage, the iPad begs to consume more data and that 2GB limit can be reached easily. AT&T’s 30-day “pay as you go” plans end when you either use all 2GB or 30 days pass—whichever comes first—then they simply reset you to another 30-day/2GB buy for $25.00. Verizon, on the other hand charges you an extra $10 per gigabyte (or partial gigabyte) you go over per month on their 3GB plan.
However, if you’re using 4GB or more a month, it would indeed be cheaper to buy 5GB for $50 from Verizon than to pay AT&T $50 for 4GB. Verizon has the edge, offering 20% more data at the same price. Although AT&T is a bit ambiguous on whether it will continue with overage charges of $10 per GB over, or just let you kick in another 30 day / 2GB subscription. With competition these prices and structures are sure to fluctuate.
AT&T has also added “postpaid” plans wherein you can add the data plan to your existing wireless account and pay for the usage post usage unlike the prepaid plans above. If you do this, AT&T will throw in the first month free.
Price isn’t the only difference.
Besides the cost of the data plan, there are other things you should take into consideration if you want to get the most out of your iPad…
Not all 3G is created equal.
Verizon’s CDMA network is pretty much tapped out for potential. Once it goes to 4G, Verizon will offer speeds up to 12MB with real world likely to be 8-12MB. AT&T’s GSM 3G network, on the other hand, is still expandable with AT&T slating max threshold speeds of 8MB on the existing 3G network. I don’t care if an 8MB is called 3G or 4G as long as it can deliver an 8MB connection.
From a speed perspective, AT&T’s 3G is a better long-term bet than Verizon’s network, which will require a 4G network to go faster than today’s CDMA network… and a new 4G iPad.
Globe trotters will simply have more options with an AT&T GSM-based 3G iPad, as that network type is available in a lot more places around the globe than CDMA. However, you will need to pay roaming charges on a per carrier basis, and International data plans are obnoxiously expensive at about $1 per MB (that’s right MB), making them almost worthless unless it’s really important.
Truth be told, it’s often better with iPhones and iPads traveling internationally to turn off the network and only use the Internet when connected to Wi-Fi.
Much has been made about the network coverage of AT&T versus Verizon. For the most part, it depends on where you’re located and population density. I’ve not had many issues with AT&T but I have visited friends’ houses where I couldn’t get a signal. The best thing to do here is to check those maps that each company likes to trot out in their commercials, and see which service best covers where you go and where you like to visit. As for reliability, asking a few friends how their service is may help you make a decision.
You could of course to opt for iPhone tethering… that is if you own an iPhone. You can pay for tethering via AT&T for $20 extra if you already have the $25 Data plan, but the tethering option also gives you another 2GB of data. So you could skip the 3G iPad 2 altogether and use an iPhone for all your wireless connectivity with 4GB of data for $45 with a tethering option.
There are a lot of things to look at when choosing a wireless service for your new iPad. The most important thing, though, is to make sure that it works for you.