Planhacker: Australian iPad SIM Plans 2011

The iPad 2 is officially out (if in short supply) in Australia, and most carriers have made tweaks to their existing iPad micro-SIM offerings to recognise the occasion. Here’s an up-to-date and interactive listing of all the monthly and prepaid micro-SIM deals for iPad users.

Picture by Cicada

We last updated this list of plans back in January, but there’s been a bunch of major and minor changes to the listing since then. While the iPad 2 doesn’t have any different requirements to its predecessor, its appearance has seen a number of changes in the market, particularly around the cost of starter kits.

As we’ve noted before, 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, though, iPad-specific plans are generally as generous as their mainstream counterparts, so it’s not necessarily a sensible strategy. If you’re already an iPhone 4 owner, you may want to consider using your device as a hotspot rather than buying a separate SIM, as that’s now an option with iOS 4.3.

We’ve listed all the Australian 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; most apart from Telstra 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, as the speed will almost always be better.

We’ll emphasise as always that these plans only include usage in Australia, not overseas; when you’re travelling with an iPad, finding Wi-Fi remains your best bet. To date, we haven’t seen any subsidised iPad plans offering the hardware for free on a long-term contract, and I rather doubt we will in the near-term.

Here’s the full table in spreadsheet format. You can filter this down to provide a narrower set of results by clicking on a column header and selecting the Filter option. For instance, you could choose to only display options that have a $0.00 setup fee by clicking on ‘Setup cost’, choosing ‘Filter’, ticking the $0.00 box and clicking OK. You can also access this as a PDF for printing.

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. The “free” starter kit available through Harvey Norman, Dick Smith, Apple, David Jones and Myer is definitely a cheaper option if you’re thinking of going Optus, though it does include a lot less data. 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. Virgin’s bonus data is only being offered until the end of April, but I wouldn’t be altogether surprised if they extended it. Amaysim’s SIM is sold to be used in a phone, but you can use it as a data-only option. As well as having network issues, Vodafone’s site doesn’t want to actually display its prepaid recharge pricing as I write this.

Prepaid SIMs which charge a set-up fee generally include data, so going for a no-fee option won’t necessarily be much 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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