ANALYSIS: best iPad 3G plans

ANALYSIS: best iPad 3G plans


If you’re planning on shelling out for a 3G-capable iPad you’re going to need a data plan to go along with it. Thankfully all four Australian carriers have standardised on the iPad as a prepaid device so it’s easy to compare offerings based on your needs.

The Micro-SIM

To use the iPad on a 3G network you’ll need to get a Micro-SIM – a smaller version of the SIM card in your mobile phone. There are many stories about how to make Micro-SIMs using a normal SIM and a pair of scissors but they’re irrelevant as all carriers are now offering the proper SIMs.

The Micro SIM and mini SIM next to each other. Image: Wikipedia Commons CC3.0

Three offers them for free from its stores or for 50c through the mail and offers 200MB bonus data if you activate the Micro-SIM online or 100MB bonus data if you activate over the phone. Vodafone offers its Micro-SIMs for free through its stores while Telstra and Optus are selling Micro-SIMs through their shops.

Recharging

Once you’re up and running you’ll buy iPad data using fixed-price
recharges – either online or via the carrier’s own iPad application –
that vary in value depending on your needs. Pricing is as follows:

 Carrier Recharge Price Included Data Bonus Data Valid for Notes
 Optus $15
$20
$30
$40
$50
$70
$80
$100
$130
500MB
1GB
3GB
4GB
5GB
9GB
9GB
12GB
14GB
1GB (until 30/9/10) on all plans
 
15 days
15 days
30 days
30 days
30 days
60 days
186 days
60 days
60 days
 
 Telstra $20
$30
$60
1GB
3GB
6GB
     
 Three  $15
$29
$49
$149
500MB
2GB
4GB
12GB
1GB
2GB
2GB
N/A
30 days
30 days
30 days
365 days
 2MB off-network
2MB off-network
4MB off-network
12MB off-network
Additional data 2c/MB 50c/MB roaming
 Vodafone  $9.95
$14.95
$29.95
$49.95
$100
$150
250MB
1GB
4GB
Unlimited
6GB
12GB
  30 days
30 days
30 days
30 days
186 days
365 days

Maximum 14GB can be rolled over

Terms and conditions

Reading through each carrier’s terms and conditions reveals a few interesting nuggets. For example Vodafone mandates “personal use only†and prohibits use of the $49.95 unlimited plan to access peer-to-peer services. Other carriers may put specific requirements on your usage or set out certain terms for rolling over data from month to month. This makes it worth reading each carrier’s terms and conditions carefully what you’re in for.

Other options

Rollover is one important point: Telstra and Three for example will roll over unused data as long as you top up your account before the 30-day prepaid period is finished.

While the prepaid options have attracted the most attention carriers are also offering month-to-month plans for those with more predictable needs. For example Optus offers $20 (2GB) $30 (3GB) and $60 (8GB) plans while Three has $15 (1GB) and $29 (3GB) plans.

Which plan is right for you?

The nice thing about the predominance of prepaid plans is that if your needs change throughout the year you can easily switch from one carrier to another.

For now however the iPad is an unknown quantity and it may be a good idea not to overcommit. You may want to just start with a cheap option – for example Vodafone’s 250MB $9.95 recharge – and work your way up from there. If you’re like most people you may be surprised how little 3G data you actually use especially if you’re going to be connecting via WiFi in your home most of the time.

If you’re planning on doing a lot of video watching via YouTube or other sites you’ll want to weigh up your options more carefully. Vodafone has the drop on its competitors with a 4GB $29.95 prepaid plan or you can opt for its unrivaled $49.95 unlimited-usage plan if you’re full-on with the video or expect to be moving large files around or doing remote access into your computer a lot.

Mid-tier users may find the best option is to shell out a little bit more upfront for the peace of mind of having data that doesn’t expire after 30 days. Three and Vodafone each offer 12GB per year – 1GB per month on average – of iPad data per month for $149 and $150 respectively – effectively giving you two months’ access for free when compared with buying a $15 or $14.95 prepaid recharge every month. With Optus $160 will buy you 18 GB of data spread across two 186-day prepaid deals – a bit more of an annual cost but with an extra 500MB per month that may well prove useful.