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The New iPad: 4G LTE Service Plans Explained

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The new iPad Wi-Fi + 4G models from Apple allow you to connect to a 4G or 4G LTE wireless data network in order to experience significantly faster web surfing speeds (when compared to older 3G wireless broadband networks). In this article, In this article, best-selling author and avid iPhone/iPad user Jason R. Rich highlights tips for choosing the right wireless data plan for your new iPad that will best meet your needs and budget.
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Now that some of the new iPad models are able to connect to the Internet using a 4G LTE wireless broadband connection, there’s a lot of advertising hype from the wireless data service providers, like AT&T Wireless and Verizon Wireless, about what this actually means, and which network is better. Theoretically, when connected to a 4G LTE network, your iPad should be able to surf the web at speeds up to 10 times faster than if it were connected to a 3G wireless network.

However, despite claims from multiple carriers that they offer “America’s largest 4G network,” when it comes down to it, there are several 4G wireless data technologies out there, and if you’re looking for 4G LTE—which is the fastest, regardless of which service provider you choose—4G LTE service is currently only available in limited cities across America.

As you probably know, Apple’s new iPad comes in several hardware configurations. First, you’ll need to choose between a Wi-Fi only and Wi-Fi + 4G model. The latter allows you to connect to the Internet using either a Wi-Fi hotspot or the 3G/4G wireless network operated by the wireless data service provider of your choice.

The benefit of using a new iPad Wi-Fi + 4G model is that you can connect to the Internet from almost anywhere, and then move around freely, without having to worry about leaving the rather small signal radius of a Wi-Fi hotspot (which is typically less than 200 feet from the wireless Internet router).

Keep in mind, if a 4G LTE signal is not available where you are, your new iPad Wi-Fi + 4G model will seek out a slightly slower 4G signal. If that’s not available, you’ll automatically be connected to a 3G signal.

In addition to paying slightly more upfront for a new iPad with Wi-Fi + 4G capabilities, to access a wireless data service provider’s network, you’ll need to sign up and pay for a monthly wireless data plan. The good news is that unlike most cell phone plans, there are no long-term contracts to sign. Once you sign up for a recurring monthly plan, you can change the plan at anytime, or cancel it with no penalties.

However, at the time you purchase your new iPad Wi-Fi + 3G model in the U.S., you’ll need to choose between AT&T Wireless and Verizon Wireless to be your wireless data service provider. The iPad’s hardware is slightly different for each carrier, and they’re not compatible.

Other decisions you’ll need to make that are important—but that don’t impact the new iPad’s web surfing capabilities—include the color of the iPad’s housing (black or white) and the amount of internal storage space the iPad will posses (16GB, 32GB, or 64GB). The internal storage of an iPad is not upgradable after purchase, so it’s important to anticipate your data storage capacity needs in advance.

Choosing a Wireless Data Plan for Your New iPad

It’s important to understand that not all wireless data plans are the same. Each wireless data service provider offers a different 4G LTE coverage map (which continues to expand), as well as a different collection of features.

For example, Verizon Wireless allows the new iPad to serve as a Mobile Wi-Fi hotspot, allowing up to five devices to connect to your tablet’s Internet connection. When it comes to traveling abroad with your new iPad, each wireless data service provider also offers different international data roaming plans to access a 3G or 4G network abroad.

However, you’ll probably find it much more cost-effective to acquire a micro-SIM card from a local wireless data provider in whatever country you’re visiting, and then use it for the duration of your visit. When you do this, you can either purchase one day, one week, or one month of service, or pre-pay for a pre-determined wireless data usage allotment, such as 1GB or 2GB. Then, when you return to the U.S., simply reinstall the original micro-SIM card into your new iPad. This process takes about 30 seconds.

Here in the U.S., AT&T Wireless and Verizon Wireless offer slightly different monthly service plans for the new iPad. If you go over your monthly data allocation, you can immediately upgrade your plan, or pay $10 per gigabyte of additional usage.

Here’s a rundown of the new iPad wireless data plans that are available, as of April 2012:

AT&T Wireless Data Plan

Monthly Wireless Data Allocation

Price Per Month

250MB

$14.99

3GB

$30

5GB

$50

Verizon Wireless Data Plan

Monthly Wireless Data Allocation

Price Per Month

1GB

$20

2GB

$30

5GB

$50

If you’re upgrading from an original iPad or iPad 2, and you already have an unlimited wireless data plan that you want to keep, you can transfer that plan to your new iPad. Unlimited wireless data plans are no longer offered in the U.S. by AT&T Wireless or Verizon Wireless for the iPad. To transfer your existing unlimited data plan, call your wireless data service provider directly. Do not sign up for a plan online via your new iPad.

After you initially set up and activate your new iPad, the first time you launch Safari—for example, to access the Internet—you’ll be prompted to sign up for a wireless data plan directly from your tablet. To do this, you’ll need to provide your name, address, and credit card information. You will immediately be billed for your first month of wireless data service, and will then receive a recurring monthly charge until you cancel the plan.

From your new iPad Wi-Fi + 3G model, to sign up for or modify your wireless data plan, from the tablet’s Home Screen, launch the Settings app. On the left side of the Settings screen, select the Cellular Data option. Turn the virtual switch that’s associated with the Cellular Data option (that’s displayed on the right side of the screen) to the ON position, and then tap on the View Account tab to set up an account, change your service plan, or cancel it.

Also from the Cellular Data screen within Settings, you can turn on/off the Enable LTE setting. When turned on, this allows your new iPad to automatically connect to a faster 4G LTE network whenever it’s available. You’ll experience significantly faster web surfing speeds, but also potentially use up your monthly wireless data allocation faster.

By default, the virtual switch associated with the Data Roaming option is turned off. Leave it there. Otherwise, if your new iPad taps into another wireless data provider’s network, you could be charged a hefty roaming fee (up to $20 per megabyte). Wireless data roaming should be used only as a last resort if no other Internet connection method is available, but you absolutely must access the Internet from wherever you happen to be with your iPad.

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