Which iPad 3G Data Plan Should You Buy?

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When Apple's iPad 3G ships in April, U.S. wireless partner AT&T will offer two data plans for the gadget, with different costs and monthly download allotments.

Specifically, AT&T will offer a $14.99 monthly plan that allows for 250 MB of data consumed, and a $29.99 monthly plan that allows for unlimited Internet consumption.


Which should you buy? That depends on how you'll be using the device on a 3G network, of course. (We think most people will buy the cheaper iPad without 3G service, but many will buy the 3G model, too.)


For an idea of what the cheaper plan offers, here's what 250 MB translates to:

* About 35 minutes of YouTube video at standard-definition
* OR about 8-10 minutes of YouTube or iTunes video at 720p hi-definition
* OR about 70 songs from iTunes
* OR a few thousand Web pages and typical email usage
* OR more than 4,000 Facebook photos


So, if you think a month's worth of 3G access looks like this, then you should be fine with the 250 MB plan:

* Browsing a few dozen Web pages a day and typical email usage (without downloading big attachments)
* Looking at a few dozen Facebook photos a day
* Watching a few minutes of YouTube video a week
* Downloading a few songs and podcasts from iTunes per month
* Downloading a few small iPhone or iPad apps per month, light app usage


If you think you'll be using more bandwidth than that over 3G, you may consider the $29.99 plan. Remember that you can cancel anytime, change plans on a monthly basis, or turn service off and on, because there is no contract. (And no "activation fee" was disclosed during Steve Jobs' presentation.)

Remember, using the iPad in a wi-fi zone doesn't count toward this limit. So if you're going to be using the iPad primarily at home—the best use case—or at the office, or anywhere there's wi-fi, you won't need to worry about hitting the 250 MB cap. AT&T is also including free access to its wi-fi networks in its 3G plans, which includes Starbucks locations.


What happens if you go over 250 MB? Will AT&T stick you with unreasonable overage charges?

The company won't say.

But our hunch, because this is prepaid service — no contract or credit check required — is that once your 250 MB are up, AT&T's network meter will simply require you to upgrade to the $29.99 plan to continue using the Internet.


This seems the more consumer-friendly, responsible thing to do, and eliminates AT&T's risk of offering you credit. But AT&T refuses to immediately give more information than what Jobs said in his presentation. So we can't be sure.