As we prepare for the expected launch of the iPad 3 this week, it seems appropriate to revisit the available SIM plan deals for iPad owners. Whatever combination of download allowance, network coverage and expiry period you want, Planhacker has it covered.
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Most Australian carriers now offer the iPad 2 as part of a contract plan, but we're not going to reivisit those tables until this week's release plans become clear. Given the rapid update cycle on the iPad, tying into a contract may not prove the most sensible buying strategy, and it certainly wouldn't be wise to sign up without knowing the next stage of launch plans. Since these plans were launched last year, a few have seen minor increases in data allowances, and some companies (Optus in particular) have simplified their range. On the other hand, Telstra's offering is entirely unchanged.
As we've pointed out before, while it is possible to make your own micro-SIM from any existing standard SIM and access any data plan, iPad-only plans are actually fairly generous. If you're not often going to use an iPad on the road, then sticking to a cheaper Wi-Fi model may make sense. (Even if you have a 3G model, it clearly makes sense to use the Wi-Fi option when you're at home or in the office, as the speed will usually be better and you won't be wasting your allowance).
We've listed all the carriers we're aware of with iPad-specific plans below (that is, including a micro-SIM as a standard option); data allowances and setup costs. Plans fall into two categories: prepaid (once your value runs out, you have to recharge) and monthly (there's a fixed monthly fee, but you can cancel at one month's notice). Prepaid makes sense if you're only going to use the device in 3G mode occasionally or want a really chaeap plan; a monthly plan is useful if you will regularly be using 3G on your iPad (your daily commute being one obvious example).
Prepaid plans usually have a setup fee and include a set amount of data (normally for 30 days). You'll sometimes see prepaid SIMs on special at lower rates; check carefully, since these specials often don't have any data inclusion, which can obviate any evident savings.
Here's the full table. Remember you can sort and filter by clicking on the column headers, so that you can (for instance) sort in order of total download limits or prices, or only see prepaid plans. Optus, Telstra and Vodafone use their own networks; Amaysim, Internode and Virgin Mobile also use Optus.
It's hard to recommend any single plan as a stand-out, since the way people use the iPad will differ depending on their circumstances. Reception is the most important factor — a cheap plan isn't cheap if you can't make effective use of it. Telstra has the best reputation for national coverage, but all providers have black spots. Because Telstra plans can change month-to-month, you may as well start with a low-value plan and see if it meets your needs.
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. Vodafone has the cheapest recharge option on prepaid, but a very ungenerous data allowance to go with it. As cheap plans go, Virgin's web-only monthly plan is a better bet (though prepaid is arguably a better choice there anyway).
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 (Vodafone has the widest range).
For full details of each carrier's plans, check the links below:
Lifehacker's weekly Planhacker column rounds up the best communication deals.