There have always been two different variants of iPads: Wi-Fi-only and Wi-Fi+Cellular. The main difference is fairly obvious, the cellular model allows us to connect to the internet via a cellular network so we don’t have to rely on Wi-Fi to get our internet connection. Of course, this means we get more versatility to use the iPad anywhere.
The catch? The cellular iPad is around $130 more expensive than the Wi-Fi-only model, and on top of that, you must pay a monthly fee for your iPad’s data plan. So, you get more versatility and convenience for the extra price.
To make the most of this extra versatility, getting a proper iPad data plan to power your cellular iPad’s connectivity is very important, and here we will learn how. Before that, however, let us discuss some key differences between a Wi-Fi-only iPad and a cellular iPad.
Wi-Fi-Only VS Cellular iPad: Key Differences
There are actually three main differences between a Wi-Fi-only iPad and a cellular iPad:
- LTE connectivity: an iPad with cellular-data enabled allows us to use a mobile data network from our provider. In practice, this means we can use the iPad to access the internet during our commute when there’s no access to Wi-Fi, and it’s also a great option to have when you travel a lot.
- GPS: Only the cellular iPad has a proper A-GPS chip, while the Wi-Fi iPad only uses Wi-Fi triangulation to determine the iPad’s location. Meaning, location tracking in a cellular iPad is much more accurate, which is also useful in cases where you lose your iPad and want to use the Find My iPad function.
- Price: As discussed, a Wi-Fi+Cellular iPad is, on average, $130 more expensive than a Wi-Fi-only iPad with the same storage
So, you should get a cellular-enabled iPad if:
- You frequently use your iPad away from Wi-Fi access
- You travel a lot
- You want to be able to take/make phone calls from your iPad
- You live or work somewhere without Wi-Fi/internet access, but there’s enough cellular network coverage. You can use your iPad to serve as a personal hotspot for other devices in this case.
- You don’t want to download your content (books, photos, music/podcasts, videos) in advance, and you need to be able to access them anytime you need to
- You need to use GPS services (i.e. Google Maps) a lot
- You often need to use Facetime, Zoom, etc. when commuting or traveling and cannot wait for Wi-Fi
- You often use apps that require internet access to work (i.e. online gaming, GPS-based apps, etc.)
- You are okay with paying extra both for the iPad unit and for the monthly data plan
Choosing an iPad Data Plan for Your Cellular iPad
In most cases, you probably already have a data plan for your iPhone or smartphone, so the iPad data plan would be an additional cost on top of this plan. So, choosing the right data plan for your iPad to ensure cost-effectiveness is very important. Here are some important considerations:
- Network Coverage
This one is fairly obvious: you should choose a data plan that offers reliable coverage in areas where you’ll frequently use the iPad (and where there’s no Wi-Fi access). Different providers offer strong coverage in certain areas but not the others, so choose carefully.
Nowadays, you can visit the network carrier’s website and check their coverage maps, they should provide clear information where their cell towers are deployed, and you can use this information for your choice.
If you travel a lot, you might also want to consider getting a data plan with international/global coverage, especially if you are already using a newer iPad with eSIM. A proper global data plan can help you avoid those expensive roaming charges during your travel.
- Data Consumption
How much data do you really need with your iPad? For most people, the actual number would be lower than our data consumption on our phone, but not always. Check your monthly data consumption and calculate the average, then choose the right plan that is the most cost-efficient according to your data usage. If you only use 2GB of data on average each month, there’s no use spending more money on an unlimited data plan, for example.
- Check The Contract Details
Many plans offer attractive extra features like ‘unlimited’ data/voice/test or ‘free’ international details, but typically there are always caveats with these types of promotions. For example, most unlimited data plans would apply throttling (slowing down your speed) after you reach a certain data limit. Check the fine print of these extra perks so you can have the right expectation.
- Personal Hotspot Limit
If you are planning to use your iPad to share a Personal Hotspot to other devices, then you should check whether the data plan offers a personal hotspot allowance. Some data plans offer a dedicated hotspot allowance so it won’t count toward your primary data count, some others will simply allow you to use the plan’s primary data allowance for Personal Hotspot. If you happen to use Personal Hotspot a lot, then you should consider a plan that offers a hotspot allowance.
- Travel Benefits
This is especially important if you happen to travel a lot with your iPad. Some data plans offer unlimited international data and texting (although the speed is typically very slow for the free version), there are also data plans that offer unique travel benefits like single-day unlimited travel data, free in-flight Wi-Fi on certain airlines, and so on. Again, if you are planning to travel a lot, you might want to consider a global data plan like Truphone’s data only sim for iPads with coverage in 44 different countries. This is relatively true if you own a relatively newer iPad with eSIM, allowing more versatility to switch between carriers as you move between countries without needing to replace your SIM card.
Finding the right data plan for your Wi-Fi+cellular iPad is very important not only to maximize cost-efficiency with your iPad data usage but also to ensure reliability depending on your use case. If, for example, if you are going to bring your iPad to different countries a lot during your travels, then it is wise to invest in a data plan that offers global coverage in countries you’ll visit during your travels.
In short, consider your needs carefully, and get the most affordable data plan that offers the perks you’ll need.