iPad 3G/4G Data Plans: AT&T Cheaper, Verizon Better

iPad Showdown: AT&T vs Verizon

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You've decided to buy an iPad. You've decided to go 4G. But which provider? Both AT&T and Verizon have both data service plans for the iPad, but both are not created equal.

The first thing you want to do in deciding on a carrier is to check coverage, especially the coverage for 4G if you are buying the newest iPad. You can check AT&T's coverage map, which shows the areas where data is covered. Simply click the Coverage tab at the bottom and note the orange circles that denote 4G coverage. Verizon's coverage map also shows which cities support 4G, with those cities highlighted with a green circle.

If only one covers your area, your choice is simple. Verizon supports more 4G markets, and if your area is not supported, chances are that Verizon will hit it first. But for most of us, both AT&T and Verizon have the coverage in our area, especially if you look at 3G coverage for the iPad 2. So which one is better?

If this were a horse race, AT&T and Verizon would be neck and neck in terms of performance and reliability. And because 4G has yet to be widely adopted, you won't see a lot of congestion on the networks. So if you are buying the 3rd generation iPad and you have 4G support in your area from both networks, you'll be more concerned with price.

What about 3G? While the new iPad is going to be flying off the shelves, plenty of people will be picking up an iPad 2 at a discounted price. In this area, AT&T's 3G network is faster than the competition, and by a good margin. But being the sole provider of the iPhone has taken its toll on the network, which has become congested over the past few years. Verizon definitely wins the reliability award, but now that they are offering the iPhone and the iPad, their network will see a sharp increase in traffic.

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But how much do they cost?

If both AT&T and Verizon have the same coverage in your area, it is going to be a matter of cost. AT&T has the cheapest plan, offering 250 MB per month at $14.99, but if you are looking for the cheapest plan, Verizon's 1 GB for $20 is a better deal. It's too easy to blow through 250 MB of data, and paying the overage will rack up a higher bill.

And while both carriers offer a 5 GB plan for $50, AT&T offers 3 GB a month for $30, while Verizon just offers 2 GB a month at the same price. So if you are in the middle, AT&T wins the price war.

As an added bonus, Verizon is adding in the ability to become a mobile hotspot to their data plans, so you won't need to spend extra money if you want to share your connection. Currently, AT&T is still working out the details on this issue.

But one thing to remember is that you still pay for your data, and using your iPad as a mobile hotspot is a great way to exceed your data limits. In this way, it is in the carrier's best interests to offer the functionality for free in hopes that they can charge you more for the data. And in reality, having a data hotspot is more important for a smartphone than a tablet.

250 MB? 1 GB? What do those numbers even mean?

Let's face it, most of us don't really know how much data we'll be using. AT&T states that most people consume less than 250 MB of data per month, but if you are using the 4G connection on a consistent basis, you are probably going to exceed that 250 MB range, and if you watch a lot of video, you could easily exceed 1 GB.

In terms of price, Verizon's $20 a month plan is the best deal. The extra $5 buys you four times more data than AT&T's cheapest plan, which amounts to a lot of wiggle room. And for most of us, that'll be plenty of data. Even if you exceed 1 GB a few times a year, you are still going to save more money than paying for AT&T's 3 GB plan.

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Should I get the 5 GB plan?

It was recently revealed that users who gobbled up just 2-3 GB of data were being counted as among the top 5% on the network by AT&T, which is a good testament to how little data most of us will end up using on our iPad. Remember, if you are at home, you are probably going through your Wi-Fi, so that data doesn't count.

Perhaps the best solution is to go for the middle tier plan and keep an eye on how much data you are using. The iPad doesn't have the same 2-year commitment as the iPhone and other smartphones, so you can actually adjust your data plan (or even drop it completely) month-to-month. In fact, many people do not sign up for a plan right at first, reserving that for when they take vacation or a business trip and might really use the plan.

iPad Data Plan Comparison

Plan AT&T Verizon
1 $14.99 for 250 MB $20 for 1 GB
2 $30 for 3 GB $30 for 2 GB
3 $50 for 5 GB $50 for 5 GB
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