So you’ve got an iPad on order, you’ve snagged one early on eBay or you’re thinking about buying one. Unless you get a Wi-Fi only model, you’ll also want a 3G micro-SIM to help you use the device on the go. To help you choose the best one for your needs, here’s a comprehensive guide to all the plans available in Australia.
While it is possible to make your own micro-SIM from any existing standard SIM, for most users buying into a plan will make more sense, even though it does have the annoying consequence of paying for multiple mobile plans. If you really want to stick to a single SIM, consider combining the existing SIM from your mobile phone or dongle with a portable Wi-Fi router such as the MiFi that can convert your data allowance into a Wi-Fi signal your iPad can access.
All of Australia’s main carriers — Optus, Telstra, and Vodafone/3 — are offering micro-SIM plans designed for iPad users. Every carrier has a prepaid option, handy for casual or occasional users; Optus and 3 also offer month-to-month plans if you anticipate regularly using the iPad via 3G. (Even if you have a 3G SIM, it makes sense to use the Wi-Fi option when you’re at home.) Right now, there’s no subsidised offers — you have to buy an iPad outright and then choose the plan you want.
We’ve outlined the plans for Telstra, Optus and Vodafone/3 as they’ve been announced, but the table below combines them all in a single location for easy comparison. Click on the image for a larger version.
If you want this table in spreadsheet form, you can access it via Google Docs.
It’s hard to recommend a single plan as a stand-out, since the way people use the iPad (or any mobile device) will differ depending on their circumstances. There are a few points worth making, however. Ultimately, reception is the most important factor — a cheap plan isn’t cheap if you can’t make effective use of it. The cheapest plans inevitably have lower data requirements. In practice, there doesn’t seem much point buying a plan offering less than 1GB.
In network coverage terms, Telstra is easily the champion — if you’re in a non-metropolitan location or regularly travel outside capital cities, it is the only sensible choice. If you are going with Telstra, you might as well start with the cheapest plan and see if it meets your overall data needs — it makes more sense to move up Telstra’s range than down, because of the odd way it calculates data roll-over.
If you expect you’ll often want to use the 3G options, then the $80/186 day plan from Optus looks pretty appealing. Vodafone’s $100/180 day plan is slightly more expensive, but an obvious choice if Vodafone is a good reception option where you intend to use it. If you fancy even longer-term planning, 3’s 12GB/365 day recharge will likely keep you covered for an entire year. Bear in mind that with all prepaid plans, the data will expire if you don’t recharge before the end of the usage period (though if that often bothers you, a monthly plan may make more sense).
Vodafone’s $49.95 unlimited prepaid plan might sound appealing, but in practice I’m not sure how many people would get through a massive amount of data over 30 days (unless perhaps it was your sole machine on an intended holiday). For less money, you can get at least 3GB from every provider, so it would be worth testing your usage patterns before signing up for this.
All the month-by-month plans don’t require a long-term contract, so they don’t represent a huge contractual commitment. Again, though, they would make more sense once you’ve owned an iPad for a while and understand what your data usage patterns are.
Lifehacker’s weekly Loaded column looks at better ways to manage (and stop worrying about) your money.