I recently looked at the cheapest options for mobile data for your iPad 3G.
But if you’re thinking of buying an iPad, you may not want to splash out the extra £100 for a 3G model instead of a Wifi-only model. However, what if you do need mobile broadband? Maybe that £100 is worth it?
So here’s a comparison between the prices of the different iPad models, with their differing mobile broadband options.
With an iPad 3G, you have built-in mobile connectivity, and a choice of tailored tariffs from the mobile networks. With the Wifi-only iPad, you have to roll your own. A good way of doing this is by using 3’s Mifi router, which uses the connectivity of their network, but gives you a wifi connection.
The other difference is one I’ve mentioned already – the setup cost. The 3G iPad costs £100 more than the Wifi-only iPad. On some of 3’s mobile broadband tariffs the Mifi router will cost you to buy, on some it’s free.
How do iPad mobile data options compare?
In order to compare tariffs, I’ve stretched them over 18 months, which is the minimum of some of 3’s tariffs. I’ve also removed the sub-1Gb, sub-30 day data tariffs, as they’re not good comparators over this length of time.
In the table, “Setup Cost” means either the cost of the Mifi router (if it’s a wifi-only iPad), or the extra money you’ll pay for the 3G model.
The full table is below, but here’s the headline:
The cheapest way to get an iPad with mobile data is still 3 + MiFi
|iPad Model||Network||Data Allowance||SIM or MiFi?||Cost (£)||Setup Cost (£)||Data allowance lasts for||Contract Type||Total Cost of Ownership, over 18 months (£)||Activation Method||Note|
|Wifi-only||3||1Gb||MiFi||9.5||0||1 month||18 month||171.00||Call Three to activate|
|Wifi-only||3||1Gb||MiFi||10||49.99||30 days||PAYG||229.99||Call Three to activate|
|3G||3||1Gb||Micro-SIM||7.5||100||1 month||Rolling monthly||235.00||Call Three to activate||Out of bundle charges of 10p per MB apply|
|Wifi-only||3||3Gb||MiFi||10||69.99||30 days||PAYG||249.99||Call Three to activate||MiFi pre-loaded with 3Gb data. Assumed lowest additional top-up.|
|3G||O2||1Gb||Micro-SIM||10||100||30 days||Rolling 30 day||280.00||Activate on iPad 3G||Includes unlimited wifi with The Cloud and BT Openzone|
|3G||Vodafone||1Gb||Micro-SIM||10||100||30 days||Rolling 30 day||280.00||Activate on iPad 3G|
|Wifi-only||3||5Gb||MiFi||17||0||1 month||18 month||306.00||Call Three to activate|
|Wifi-only||3||3Gb||MiFi||15||49.99||30 days||PAYG||319.99||Call Three to activate|
|Wifi-only||3||5Gb||MiFi||15||54.99||1 month||Rolling monthly||324.99||Call Three to activate||MiFi pre-loaded with 5Gb data|
|3G||O2||3Gb||Micro-SIM||15||100||30 days||Rolling 30 day||370.00||Activate on iPad 3G||Includes unlimited wifi with The Cloud and BT Openzone|
|3G||Orange||3Gb||Micro-SIM||15||100||30 days||Rolling 30 day||370.00||Call Orange to activate||Includes unlimited wifi with BT Openzone in UK & Eire. Out-of-bundle 3G data charged at 5p per mb, capped at £40/month. £10 initial credit.|
|3G||Vodafone||3Gb||Micro-SIM||15||100||30 days||Rolling 30 day||370.00||Activate on iPad 3G|
|3G||3||10Gb||Micro-SIM||15||100||1 month||Rolling monthly||370.00||Call Three to activate||Out of bundle charges of 10p per MB apply|
|Wifi-only||3||15Gb||MiFi||22||0||1 month||18 month||396.00||Call Three to activate|
|Wifi-only||3||15Gb||MiFi||25||49.99||30 days||PAYG||499.99||Call Three to activate|
|3G||Vodafone||5Gb||Micro-SIM||25||100||30 days||Rolling 30 day||550.00||Activate on iPad 3G||Originally promoted as "unlimited", now changed to £5Gb.|
|3G||Orange||10Gb||Micro-SIM||25||100||30 days||1 month||550.00||Call Orange to activate||Includes unlimited wifi with BT Openzone in UK & Eire. Out-of-bundle 3G data charged at 5p per mb, capped at £40/month. £10 initial credit.|
For example, on an 18-month contract, 3 is £109 cheaper than any other network. Even if you go for the same 30 day option (PAYG on 3, rolling contract with the others), it’s £50 cheaper over the same period.
At the other end of the scale, 3 will give you 15Gb per month compared to Vodafone’s 5Gb, and it’ll cost you £100 less over an 18 month period. If you choose 3’s PAYG option instead of a contract, it’ll still cost £50 less than Vodafone for triple the bandwidth.
The disadvantages of choosing MiFi
- It’s a two-box solution, which means double the number of power chargers
- You don’t get GPS built-in to your iPad
- You won’t get on-device reminders of your data usage – you’ll have to phone 3 or visit their website, as their Mifi dashboard software won’t run on the iPad
The extra advantage of choosing MiFi
Apart from cost, there’s one little extra if you choose a MiFi: the iPad thinks you’re using a wifi network, not a cellular network. So, you won’t be faced with restrictions Apple has put in place when you’re using 3G, such as being limited to downloads of less than 20Mb from iTunes.
James Burland has written about his experience with a MiFi and iPad over at iPad Creative.
The absolute cheapest option?
Well if you’re going to roll your own mobile broadband, why not go the whole hog? Buy an unlocked Mifi from eBay for about £90, and while you’re at it, buy a data SIM from any network you like off eBay as well. As we’ve been looking at 3, here’s one for sale that’s £34.99 for 12Gb data, and it lasts for a year!
That’s £90 plus £35 = £125 for 12 months. Even if you add on another 12Gb data SIM, then the total cost is still less than the cheapest official 3 Mifi router, you get more data, and you get to use it over the year as you see fit. Nice.
One last option: forget the MiFi, just buy the normal data SIM off eBay, then apply a meat cleaver to make your own micro-SIM. Proceed at your own risk!
So what’s it going to be?