The new iPad is coming out today. Though most of you will likely opt for a Wi-Fi only model, there is a decent reason to consider buying one with a data connection. For the first time, Apple has embraced 4G LTE. If you haven’t used it yet, 4G is a lot faster than the 3G connection you might still have on your phone. So much faster, in fact, that it can already reach speeds comparable to most home Internet connections: 7-15 Megabits per second (Mbps).
If you have the extra $130 and are okay with paying a monthly fee for an always-on data connection, there are two options: AT&T or Verizon.
If you’re wondering why this choice is so important, unfortunately, you cannot use a Verizon LTE iPad on AT&T’s network, nor can the AT&T LTE iPad work on Verizon’s. Why? It has to do with wireless bands and a bunch of technical crap. In the future, we hope there will be one iPad to rule them all, but right now, you can have one or the other, not both. In the words of Olmec: The choice is yours, and yours alone. Good luck.
…If you don’t believe in luck though, below is a comparison of the two wireless carriers.
Comparing the plans
To help you make your choice, I’ve used my magic HTML skills to construct a few charts for you. Below are the data plans available for the iPad from AT&T and Verizon.
|Plan||Price||Price per GB||Overages||Hotspot?|
There are some important differences here. While Verizon’s $30 plan only gets you 2GB of data (1GB less than AT&T), the great red carrier offers better options in the higher and lower price brackets. If you don’t want to pay $30 a month, Verizon offers a $20 plan for 1GB. While we think you should actually be getting at least 2GB for this price, the deal is far better than AT&T’s cheapo scam plan, which offers only 250MB, or almost nothing, for $15. The trick here is that people sign up for this plan saying they won’t use much data, but even browsing the Web once a day will likely eat through more than 250MB, and AT&T charges a hefty $15 for every additional 250MB, meaning you could ring up a $60 – $100 data bill without much trouble, or even realizing it. Verizon’s 1GB plan is much better. A person could conceivably use less than 1GB, but if you’re going to go for a data plan, we suggest getting 2GB or more.
Verizon also offers a 10GB plan, where AT&T’s top out at 5GB. This plan will save you a bit of money, assuming you’re a big data user. AT&T’s plans don’t go lower than $10 per Gigabyte, but the 10GB Verizon plan lowers the cost to about $8 per GB. Still quite expensive, yes, but it’s a bit more reasonable.
Verizon also has a huge leg up because it allows you to use your iPad as a mobile hotspot, meaning you can use it as a Wi-Fi access point for your computer, smartphone, or other devices (maybe your Xbox?). If you’re going to spend the money to pay for a monthly data connection, having the option to share that data with your laptop or other devices is a huge plus. Stuck somewhere and need to email out a document on your laptop? Fear not, if you brought your iPad, you’ll be good to go. Or maybe you want to play 3DS or Vita games over Wi-Fi. You can do that too. Wi-Fi hotspotting may not be something you use every day, but when you need it, it can be a life saver.
LTE network size and stability
Verizon’s 4G LTE network is also in many, many more cities and regions than AT&T’s and seems to perform with more stability. AT&T’s LTE network will be great, we’re sure, but it won’t begin to approach the size of Verizon’s 4G footprint for many months, possibly not until 2013 or 2014. Verizon has a huge lead with its LTE rollout and we don’t expect it to give up that advantage anytime soon. If you live in an area with AT&T 4G LTE, then great, it is a valid option for you. Most of you, I imagine, do not live in one of the two dozen or so cities AT&T currently covers. For up to date coverage on both carriers, check here for AT&T and here for Verizon.
Even if you use AT&T for phone service, there’s nothing wrong with picking Verizon for your iPad data connection. Currently, we feel it offers the best features, broadest coverage, and has the fairest prices for service. AT&T could begin allowing hotspotting any day and change its rate plans at any time, but until then, our vote goes to Verizon.