What is the best iPad data plan?

With just one night to go until the Apple iPad launch, users are still debating what data plan to choose with four of the country’s major telcos offering subscriptions for the gadget.

But users may have to think fast. While Apple has confirmed it will sell both the WiFi and 3G iPads at official retail stores tomorrow, and through certain resellers, it is suspected only a limited amount of tablets will be on offer.

Demand is also likely to be high, with new data from Experian Hitwise showing an increased amount of search queries for iPad prices and plans.

Australians are spoilt for choice when it comes to iPad data. Unlike several other countries, including the US where only AT&T offers data plans, local users can choose between four major telcos.

While all four companies have said they will not be offering the iPad in retail stores, Vodafone, Three, Optus and Telstra have all confirmed they will sell MicroSIMs in official Apple locations.

The four companies offer a variety of plans at different prices, with small but significant differences. While some of the cheaper plans may seem more attractive, users need to consider whether they will actually be satisfied with their network’s performance

Here’s how the plans break down.

Optus

new-optus-ipad

Optus offers the biggest range out of all the telcos, with plans starting from as low as $15 for 500MB of data, with a 1GB sign-up bonus. However, this introductory plan only lasts for 15 days.

While the $30 for 3GB plan offers data for about $10 per GB, the subscription only lasts for 30 days.

However, Optus is also one of the two telcos to offer a post-paid data plan for the iPad. $20 per month will get your 2GB of data, with the most expensive $60 plan buying 8GB.

A set-up cost of $30 will also be charged for every plan.

Telstra

telstra

Telstra is certainly the most expensive offering, and the most limited. Its cheapest offer of $20 for 1GB of data is the most expensive entry-level plan available, while $30 will only buy users 3GB. The final and most expensive plan listed will see users get 6GB for $60.

The company has two other plans not listed on its website: $80 for 9GB, and $100 for 12GB, both lasting for 30 days.

However, despite the higher prices, Telstra’s network coverage is better than all the other networks resulting in lower drop-out rates. There’s also a $30 set up charge on top of all the offers.

Vodafone

vodafone

VHA announced plans for its Vodafone and Three brands yesterday, and for now they seem to be the clear winners.

The introductory offer of $9.95 for 250MB is hard to beat, while the $49.95 unlimited plan is sure to be a hit with data-heavy users.

And while users may still be disappointed with the relatively quick 30-day expiry rate, the two most expensive plans offer some room to move for the dedicated user. They can buy 6GB of data for $100, which will last for 180 days, or go all out and buy the 12GB plan for $150, which lasts for an entire year.

The benefits of this type of plan are that you can use the data when you want without worrying about recharging. However, users should consider whether they would actually use 12GB within the year, otherwise they may find they’ve wasted their money.

Additionally, Vodafone has no roaming charges, just lower speeds in limited coverage areas, so users shouldn’t be concerned about being slugged with extra fees.

Three

three

Maintaining its position as the budget telco offering, Three has managed to deliver a number of cheap deals for iPad users – but users may pay in other ways.

The introductory plan of $15 for 1GB is a tempting offer, while the company also offers $150 plan for 12GB lasting an entire year – identical to the Vodafone plan.

The company also offers post-paid plans, with $15 per month buying 500MB of data, and $29 buying 3GB. Sign-up bonuses are also included with an extra 500MB and 1GB respectively.

Three are known to deliver special deals to their customers from time to time, and they’ve done the same for the iPad. Yesterday, existing customers received an email offering post-paid plans of $15 per month for 2GB of data.

However, while these deals may seem solid, there are some catches. Three has a relatively limited coverage area, so users outside of metropolitan zones are going to find it increasingly difficult to gain coverage.

Additionally, when users find themselves outside of Three’s broadband zone, they will start “roaming” onto Telstra’s network. This roaming comes with significant charges of 50 cents per megabyte, which could eat into a pre-paid plan extremely quickly.

While Three might be a good choice for users in the capital cities, users may want to consider a rival offer if they’re going to be travelling through the country every so often.

Things to consider

Users need to consider a few things when picking out a data plan.

Firstly, think about just how much data you’re actually going to be using. Like the iPhone, many users expect to eat up huge amounts of data each month but actually find themselves using up 100-200MB by only looking at email.

If you’re a heavy user, looking at YouTube clips, downloading emails several times a day, watching online videos and surfing the internet constantly, then a high-end plan towards and above 1GB per month would be more appropriate. However, if you plan on just using the iPad for simple tasks, a more limited offering of about 250MB should be good enough.

Secondly, consider whether you’re actually going to need a data plan in the first place.

Many iPad users in the US have said they find themselves using the gadget indoors, but rarely venture outside as they already have an internet-enabled smartphone.

Work with the iPad for a few days to determine if you plan on using it outside of home or office wireless networks. If you find yourself outside of areas where wireless hotspots are available, then start shopping around for an iPad.

Lastly, look carefully at whether you’re buying a pre-paid or post-paid plan and consider the differences. While pre-paid plans offer convenience, (you can recharge whenever you like with no subscription fees and requirements), the data runs out within a certain amount of time.

It would be disappointing to find you spent $20 on 1GB of data, and then find you hadn’t used any of it within the month.

However, if you’re going with one of the post-paid plans offered by Three or Optus, then it is critical you pay attention to just how much data you’re using. These companies charge a significant amount for breaching those data quotas.

The Australian Communication Consumer Action Network said in a statement yesterday users need to avoid being charged with an unexpected bill for going over their data quotas.

“The iPad and similar new-generation devices offer exciting new possibilities for consumers,” director of policy and campaigns Elissa Freeman said in a statement. “But to avoid getting an ‘iShock’, we’re strongly advising consumers opt for a pre-paid plan for at least the first three months until they get a feel for how much data they’re using.”

“Anyone using a 3G iPad on a post-paid plan essentially has access to a loaded gun of credit. While you’re absorbed in checking out what your iPad can do, you’re in danger of going over your data usage limit and facing a huge bill.”

The iPad is a step forward in portable computing and has already changed the tech market. But users still need to think carefully about how they’re going to use the device, and what sort of data plan they need to make the most of their new purchase.

Availability

While iPad fever has gripped Australia, would-be users may miss out on getting their hands on a gadget tomorrow with stock reportedly extremely limited.

Apple confirmed to SmartCompany the iPad will be available at its retail locations tomorrow, including the store opening tomorrow in Bondi Junction, but stock numbers could not be confirmed.

The company has already delayed more pre-orders. While the original shipping data of May 28 was pushed back to June 7 for some users, the online store now states “June” as a shipping timeline, with no specific date.

Additionally, while the company said a certain amount of stock would be available at resellers, it did not specify the names of these companies or how many iPads would be available at each location.

Experian Hitwise said in a statement that while users were looking for reviews during April, now they are searching for pricing plans – indicating a desire to buy.

“With only days until the iPad is released in Australia, there are similarities in search behaviour to when the iPhone was launched. This includes an increased interest in data plans and phone company offerings in the lead up to the launch date. We expect to see a strong demand for iPads immediately after the launch,” Experian Hitwise research director Alan Long said in a statement.

“With Apple initially launching the iPad in the US, Australians have been able to read reviews and news from the US market to understand the benefits on owning an iPad, before its launch here. The current knowledge about applications is much higher than from when the iPhone was launched, so the interest, while still relatively strong, hasn’t been the main focus of internet searches.”

If you’re still wanting to get your hands on an iPad, your best bet is to line-up early at one of the company’s seven locations across the country. Apple stores are located in: Sydney and Chatswood in NSW, Chermside and Robina in QLD and Chadstone and Doncaster in VIC.

But lines could be huge. In the United States, several hundred people gathered at the company’s flagship Seventh Avenue location in New York for the release, with only limited stock available.

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