Ask LH: Does My iPad Need 4G For Travel?

Ask LH: Does My iPad Need 4G For Travel?

Hi Lifehacker, interested in your thoughts. I’m planning on travelling with an iPad as my main computing device. Is it more cost effective and user friendly to get a Wi-Fi model and take a pocket hotspot, or get a model with a 3G/4G SIM slot and grab a SIM when I’m overseas? Thanks, Pad Thai

Dear PT,

I’d strongly lean towards getting a basic Wi-Fi model and an unlocked hotspot, for a couple of simple reasons. You mention travelling, but not how many countries you’re travelling to, or whether you’re taking other gadgets such as a smartphone with you. The beauty of a hotspot is that you can easily feed multiple gadgets data with it; while it’s feasible to tether an iPad for the same purpose, the quality of the wireless signal can be a little unreliable, and you’re constantly draining the iPad battery while you do so.

From a straight cost perspective, Apple charges a cost premium of $140 for inbuilt 3G/4G connectivity, and it’s not too hard to buy a third party battery-backed hotspot for that kind of money, albeit one without 4G connectivity, which you’re unlikely to be able to easily roam onto overseas in any case. There are numerous roaming data SIMs you can pick up right here in Australia, which also saves the problem of sorting out a SIM when you land in your destination. Add in the possibility of free Wi-Fi and spending for the 4G version seems like overkill.

Cheers Lifehacker

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  • I’m not sure about “while it’s feasible to tether an iPad for the same purpose, the quality of the wireless signal can be a little unreliable, and you’re constantly draining the iPad battery while you do so.” – the iPad has a huge battery, and so lasts forever (~10 hours of web browsing) with 3G/LTE. Even better, if you’re *only* using it as a hotspot, you can get ~24 hours of battery life out of it, even on 4G (source: ), which is much more than the ~4 hours I get out of my 4G WiFi modems.

    Of course, the downside is that carriers have complete control over the iPad – they can dictate whether to enable tethering or not. (for example, Optus restricts tethering with my $2 days prepaid SIM in my iPad, but I can use it in my 4G modem just fine)

    • That’s also bearing in mind that the newer iPads have quite lengthy charging cycles; run them down and you’re a while tethered to a power point, which could stuff up travel plans. I tend to use hotspots on and off, which means they’ll far outrun their usual 2-4 hour power cycles.

  • Dear Pad Thai,
    If your destination country is indeed Thailand, for a start, forget 4G altogether because it doesn’t exist there.

    Even 3G doesn’t exist yet in most of the country, because it’s still being “trialled” and various operators have been in court with the thai government over their license conditions for 3G.

    However, their 2G using the EDGE standard is very good, and in general web browsing is extremely fast. I was able to get 27kilobytes/sec downloading a podcast from the ABC in Australia using EDGE, so that was quite good.

    If you can get 3G though, pricing is about 900 baht (approx $30 AU) for “unlimited” which is really 5Gb at 3G speeds, limited to 384kbps after that.

    There are other unlimited plans giving 1Gb or 3Gb before shaping kicks in for less money – just make sure you get anything requiring 3G done first, but you can actually do quite a lot with a speed limit of 384kbps. If we assume 300kbps in real world conditions, you can still transfer 135Mb per hour. (it’s plenty for online radio, for example to catch up with the news at home)

    If you’re happy with 2G only, go with AIS (their version of telstra), otherwise lock the pocket wifi device to 3G or WCDMA only first, then do a search for networks to see which operators come up, then go out and pick up one of their SIM cards.

    As the article mentioned, this cost of $30 AU has to be weighed up in the context of free or similar priced hotel wifi – last time i went there it was 1,000 baht for unlimited hotel wifi for a week and that was good value as I would have transferred a few gigabytes over it. Better than EDGE/2G only mobile reception. (when I go this year, i’ll have free wifi which is even better)

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