Planhacker: iPad SIM Plans And Prepaid Deals

Rumours are circling wildly about the iPad 2 and there’ll be a bunch of Android Honeycomb tablets later this year, but for now the iPad remains the dominant player in the tablet space. Planhacker rounds up the iPad-specific micro-SIM deals available in the Australian market.

We ran a guide to available iPad plans back in May last year, just as the iPad was launching locally. The market has evolved since then — some of the plans have more generous allowances and longer expiry periods, and Internode has entered the market as well with an offering using Optus’ network — so an update seemed due.

It is possible to make your own micro-SIM from any existing standard SIM, so in theory you could sign up for pretty much any data-driven mobile plan or dongle and use that SIM if you modified it to fit the iPad size requirements. In practice, however, iPad-specific plans are generally as generous as their mainstream counterparts, so it’s not necessarily a sensible strategy. (If you really want to stick to a single SIM plan, consider combining the existing SIM from your mobile phone or dongle with a portable Wi-Fi router that can convert your data allowance into a Wi-Fi signal which any iPad can access.)

We’ve listed all the active carriers we’re aware of with iPad-specific plans below. Every provider aside from Internode has a prepaid option, handy for casual or occasional users; 3, Internode and Optus 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, as the speed will be better.

Note that these plans only include usage in Australia, not overseas. As yet, we haven’t seen any subsidised iPad plans offering the hardware for free on a long-term contract (and that doesn’t seem to have had any effect whatsoever on the device’s monumental popularity, so I wouldn’t hold your breath waiting for one).

Here’s the full table; you can also access this as a PDF.

It’s hard to recommend a single plan as a stand-out, since the way people use the iPad will differ depending on their circumstances. If you’re mostly playing games on the train, you won’t be using a lot of data, for instance.

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 remains the champion — if you’re in a non-metropolitan location or regularly travel outside capital cities, it is often 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.

Optus’ month-by-month plans offer flexibility, but note that it counts data in 10MB increments and that Internode’s plans — on the same network — offer more data at the same price points. Internode doesn’t have any prepaid options, however. 3’s odd and unfriendly approach of offering “bonus data” each time you recharge, but making you wait up to 48 hours before it actually appears on your account, remains in place. Vodafone has the cheapest recharge option, but a very ungenerous data allowance to go with it.

Prepaid SIMs which charge a set-up fee generally include data, so going for a no-fee option won’t necessarily be cheaper. None of the month-by-month plans require a long-term contract, so they don’t represent a huge contractual commitment. If you’re a new iPad owner, they would make more sense once you’ve owned an iPad for a while and understand what your data usage patterns are. If you don’t anticipate a lot of 3G usage, the six-month (186 days) prepaid plans are a useful option to avoid recharging.

For full details of each carrier’s plans, check the links below:

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