Which iPad 4G LTE Plan Is The Best For Me?
Less than a week from now the first 3rd gen iPads will finally land in customer hands. Those of you who bought a 4G LTE model from Verizon Wireless or AT&T will have one other choice to make once the tablet is all set up: the data plan.
You can activate and cancel service right from the iPad or transfer an existing data plan over (yes, even you lucky folks with unlimited service). Some of you will want to transfer, not start over, because certain plans are only available to existing customers.
However, if you’re activating for the first time or considering upgrading your plan, which one is right for you? Read on for details about all of your choices.
Still deciding which carrier to go with? Check out our AT&T vs. Verizon post for coverage, speed tests, and pricing.
Verizon offers three data tiers for new customers and an extra for existing 3G customers.
|Carrier||Data Per Month||Price||Price Per GB|
All data plans include mobile hotspot functionality for no extra charge.
The 1GB plan is only for existing customers. If you have a 3G iPad plan and want this size for your 4G iPad, switch to it on your old iPad before activating service on your new one.
If you can do this, I suggest you do so. If you hit your 1GB limit and need more data, Verizon only charges $10 per GB. If you move up to the 2GB plan you’ll pay $30 anyway, and the next tier up is 5GB (at $10/GB).
Customers who fluctuate between around 1GB and 3GB are better off on the 1GB or 2GB plans because at max you’ll have to pay $40. Once you go over 3GB and have to pay for an extra gig (total 4GB at $50) it makes sense to consider the 5GB plan.
Since these data plans are month-to-month, not on a contract, you can step up or step down as needed at the end of the billing cycle.
The 1GB plan is best for users who mainly check email, do light web surfing, or read newsfeeds when they’re away from a Wi-Fi hotspot. Streaming a YouTube video or a song here and there won’t use up your data, but don’t count on this if you’re going to stream for hours or try to download a movie.
The 2GB plan is best for users who spend more time away from Wi-Fi or regularly access large files from the cloud. If you plan to use the iPad’s mobile hotspot capability every now and then for normal use (not streaming) you’re probably fine for staying under your data cap.
The 5GB plan is for power users who need the freedom to download large files, connect several devices to the mobile hotspot, or stream video and music without having to worry about data caps. If you do a moderate amount of traveling within the U.S., this plan will keep you connected even if hotels and airports want ridiculous fees for web access.
The 10GB plan is for the super user. Someone who doesn’t have Internet at home, who spends a lot of time on the road, or who lives in a town where Wi-Fi is not abundant. With this plan you can stream with more abandon.
Verizon Wireless iPad users also get free access to Verizon’s wireless hotspots around the country. Usually found in public places like cafes or travel hubs like airports, they can be lifesavers for users on the lowest tier data plans who need to connect while away from home.
Using the iPad Overseas
Verizon offers global data plans for iPad users. According to Verizon:
Global capabilities require an over-the-air SIM update, which may take up to two weeks to receive after activation of the new iPad.
These plans are all prohibitively expensive and only useful for very quick, necessary connections and not for extended use.
The carrier’s plans break down as follows:
|Data Allowance||Price||Rate After Allowance|
|Canada $ 0.002/KB ($2.05/MB)
Everywhere else $0.005/KB ($5.12/MB)
You can also just pay per use instead of paying for a chunk of data, but the prices are pretty high.
- In Canada: $0.002/KB or $2.05/MB.
- In Mexico: $0.005/KB or $5.12/MB.
- In other available countries: $0.02/KB or $20.48/MB.
See Verizon’s website for details.
Keep in mind that this is not for Wi-Fi, only mobile broadband. You can turn off your 4G/3G radio and just go Wi-Fi while you’re traveling.
The Verizon model iPads do come with SIM card slots, so it’s possible that customers can simply remove the Verizon SIM and insert a pre-paid SIM you buy in the country they’re traveling to.
This model is compatible with the following networks: LTE (USA); CDMA EV-DO Rev. A; UMTS/HSPA/HSPA+/DC-HSDPA; GSM/EDGE
AT&T offers three data tiers for new customers. Existing customers who bought an unlimited data plan when it was available for the original iPad can transfer that plan to new 4G LTE iPads.
|Data Per Month||Price||Price Per GB||Overage Charge*|
At this time, AT&T does not offer the mobile hotspot tethering service to customers though the iPad is capable of that function.
The carrier has two different plan types for the iPad. AT&T DataConnect and prepaid DataConnect Pass Plans. Both offer data at the same rates.
The DataConnect plan bills at the end of the month and users can combine it with their existing AT&T wireless bill if they have a mobile phone through the carrier. Customers might have to submit to a credit check for approval. If you go over your data allotment with this plan, AT&T will automatically charge you overage fees for the extra data. Though customers do not have to sign a contract for this plan and it’s not subject to an early termination fee, AT&T will automatically bill users until service is canceled.
On the prepaid DataConnect Pass plan, customers don’t have to worry about overage fees. Once you use up your data the mobile broadband simply stops working. Customers can then purchase another chunk of data. At the end of 30 days the plan automatically renews. Users cannot roll-over data, so whatever you don’t use within 30 days, you lose. Prepaid customers are not subject to a credit check.
The one big downside to the prepaid plan is that if you run out of data before the end of the month, you can’t buy more in 1GB increments. DataConnect customers who go over while on a 3GB or 5GB plan can get more data for $10/GB. On prepaid you have to buy the expensive 250MB allotment or a 3GB or 5GB chunk.
The 250MB plan is the least expensive one offered by either carrier, but also the worst deal. Unless you use the mobile connectivity very sparingly, it’s easy to hit the limit fast. Once you go over, you’re charged quite a bit for another small amount on the DataConnect plan.
If you start with this plan and use up to 1GB of data, it will end up costing you almost $60. Unfortunately, there’s no good option for moderate data users on AT&T. After this tier, it jumps up to more than most people will need for occasional use.
The 3GB plan is the same price as Verizon’s 2GB plan, thus a better deal ($10/GB instead of $15/GB). This tier is great for users who need to pull down a lot of files when away from Wi-Fi networks as well as normal email, social network checks, and web use. Moderate music and video streaming is fine, though a whole movie will burn through most, if not all of your data.
Still, since AT&T only charges a $10/GB overage fee on the 3GB plan, there’s no need start out on the 5GB tier. If you find you need more data, AT&T will automatically charge you on the DataConnect plan. If you use under 3GB or under 4GB, you pay less.
The 5GB plan makes more sense for prepaid customers who know they’ll need and use a lot of data. It’s for power users who need the freedom to download large files or stream video and music without having to worry about data caps. If you do a moderate amount of traveling within the U.S., this plan will keep you connected even if hotels and airports want ridiculous fees for web access.
Though there’s no Super User tier on AT&T as there is on Verizon, only a few customers will ever need 10GB of data in a month. Those who do can just pay overage fees. They just won’t get that nice 20% discount at the 10GB level.
AT&T iPad users also get free access to AT&T wireless hotspots around the country. Usually found in public places like cafes or travel hubs like airports, they can be lifesavers for users on the lowest tier data plan who need to connect while away from home.
Using the iPad Overseas
AT&T does have global data plans for iPad customers, but they’re prohibitively expensive. Users are better off simply buying a SIM card in the country they’re traveling to and replacing the AT&T SIM for the duration of the trip. Most carriers overseas offer low-cost pre-paid SIMs specifically for this purpose.
This model is compatible with the following networks: 4G LTE (USA); UMTS/HSPA/HSPA+/DC-HSDPA; GSM/EDGE
However, if you’re not comfortable with that or at least want a fallback if you’re only going to need data connectivity for a few minutes while on a layover, you can buy one of AT&T’s plans. Just as with domestic plans, the carrier offers both monthly and pre-paid options for customers traveling overseas. The cost per tier is the same for both.
And again, the difference between them is that the carrier will charge you extra if you go over your allotment with the monthly plan and data will just stop with the pre-paid plan.
Customers can also just go with a pay-per-use arrangement for the following costs:
$0.015/KB Canada | $0.0195/KB Rest of World
At this time neither Apple or Sprint have announced a version of the iPad for this carrier even though Sprint does carry the iPhone 4S. This is likely because Sprint doesn’t yet have a 4G LTE network in place. That will change later this year (perhaps as soon as next month). A Best Buy inventory leak points to the possibility that a Sprint iPad model will spring to life once they get LTE.
Right now, Sprint is the only carrier still offering an unlimited data plan to iPhone users. Perhaps it will be available for the iPad as well.
If Sprint and Apple announce an iPad for the carrier we’ll update this post with plan details.