Monday, October 29, 2012

Why Your Next Tablet Should Be an iPad with Cellular Data Support

In case you never knew:

What remains one of the most powerful advantages of the iPad is that Apple negotiated with cellular data providers so that your cellular data plan is month-to-month with no contract, and can be purchased directly on the iPad. So for example, you buy an iPad with “WiFi + Cellular” (the cellular variants will cost $130 more than the WiFi-only models, but read on to see why I recommend doing this), BUT you never activate the cellular service. At some point in the future, you can actually be rolling down the road (hopefully as a passenger, and not the vehicle operator) and realize that you MUST access an Internet service, and all you need is a credit card. You create the account right on the iPad, using the iPad’s cellular radio hardware that you and your iPad have ignored up to that point. Within minutes, you’ll be on the Internet. At the end of the month (or if you manage to use up all the data in the plan you’ve purchased before the month ends), you can choose to let the service lapse, and you pay no more money. Or you can renew or add data as you wish. Plans start at $15/250MB, which is actually a very useful amount for Web browsing. In my case, I’m a very frequent user, but because I’m primarily searching for text-based information, it doesn’t amount to much data. I average under 0.5GB/month, even though we have a grandfathered Unlimited Data plan. Now, if you choose to watch all your Netflix streaming movies on your iPhone/iPad (which you can), that’s different. On those devices, you’ll probably move 1 to 2 gigabytes of data during the 2-hour movie (on an HDTV streaming device, Netflix can automatically adjust up to about 2.3GB/hr).

We’ve stayed at hotels and been in convention centers that charged up to $30(!) for a 24-hour subscription to their WiFi Internet service. For that much money, you can turn on your iPad’s cellular radio-based Internet connection (WiFi + Cellular model, with AT&T, Sprint or Verizon support) any time you like for one month.

If you’re a modest consumer of bandwidth, and NOT into streaming movies and music, you may be able to use your shared Mobile Hotspot on your iPad (or iPhone) as your Internet service for your home or office, connecting your desktop and laptop computers to your mobile device as you would your home’s WiFi access point. For people living in areas not served by DSL or cable broadband providers, this can be a very practical alternative to satellite-based Internet access.


I missed this important detail when it was announced way back in March 2012.

If you get an Apple iPad in one of the “WiFi + Cellular” variants, and select the model that works on the Verizon network, you can use your iPad’s (paid) Internet connection to share with up to five other WiFi devices (computers, tablets, game devices, DVRs, etc.) WITHOUT having to pay an additional fee for “Mobile Hotspot” service. On AT&T iPads (and AT&T and Verizon iPhones), you must pay an additional $20/month for the privilege of being able to activate the Mobile Hotspot (or as Apple calls it, “Personal Hotspot”) functionality.

(AT&T has suggested that it would eventually offer the free Mobile Hotspot feature with their iPad plan, but as of the end of October 2012 that has yet to surface.)

So if you’re in the market to buy an iPad, consider: 1) paying the extra $130 for the “WiFi + Cellular” model, even if you don’t think you’ll need cellular access right away, and 2) buy a Verizon model, unless you know for certain that the cellular service area in which you wish to use your iPad has poor or no Verizon service.