Apple’s decision to sell the iPad as an unlocked device for prepaid 3G sees carriers eagerly competing for customers who can easily sample and switch networks.
Apple’s iPad is proving to be a game-changer in more ways than one. In addition to sparking a new era for slates, and reigniting or even redefining the tablet market which Microsoft has tried to crack since 2001, the 3G version of the iPad is creating Tsunami-size waves in the wireless broadband market.
Unlike the iPhone, which was sold mainly under two-year post-paid contracts, the iPad uses pre-paid services.
So instead of committing to a spend of thousands of dollars, the most that any iPad 3G buyer is up for is a $30 starter kit for Telstra or Optus (VHA is expected to announce pricing for Vodafone and Three sometime this week).
This gives you a generous 3GB when you take into account the ‘bonus data’ offered by Telstra and Optus, and 30 days in which to use up that data and assess the network for its speed, coverage and signal strength.
Not impressed with your first choice of carrier? Another $30 lets you road test one of the competing telcos.
This is one reason we’re seeing such aggressive pricing in the iPad 3G plans – because the carriers know that this time they can’t lock customers into an iron-clad contract. This time around, it’s all on their shoulders and the performance of their respective 3G networks.
This is also why Telstra’s iPad plans
have come in well below everyone’s estimate. The Next G network has a well-deserved reputation for high speed, broad reach and solid coverage, especially when it comes to punching its way into city buildings. But Next G has also earned its rep for premium pricing which often made it just too expensive for the average user to justify.
By pricing its starter kit at a loss-leading $30 and recharge packs at $20 for 1GB and $30 for 3GB, Telstra is giving iPad customers an almost no-risk ability to test Next G – and making the bet that once they’ve sampled the network’s performance they won’t leave.Optus’ iPad microSIM plans
are pegged almost exactly to Telstra in the dollars-to-download stakes but have the lure of generally (but not always) longer expiry dates.
For VHA to stay in the ring it will need to offer yet more data at even cheaper prices, longer use-by dates for each recharge, the provision for monthly carry-over of unused data or a mix of all three.
Yet in some ways the timing of the the iPad’s debut couldn’t be better. The iPhone 3G was launched in Australia on July 11th, 2008 – which means all those two year contracts inked in those mad first months are about to expire.
Two years ago few people had any experience of 3G networks for everyday data use – but now everyone with an iPhone has formed an accurate picture of their chosen carrier’s network performance in terms of coverage, speed and overall reliability.
Given that existing iPhone users will be the first adopters of the iPad, the iPad’s embrace of prepaid 3G will allow them the ability to test competing 3G networks with an eye towards shifting their iPhone over once their contract runs out.
And that’s where Telstra’s cut-price iPad plans and its high-performing Next G network are sitting pretty.