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Do We Need a 3G/4G iPad?

by on September 13th, 2011

When the original iPad came out a little more than a year ago, I immediately jumped onto the 3G bandwagon and had a blast running around town iPadding around town safe with the knowledge that I would be constantly connected to my online life. Over time, though, the 3G shine slowly faded. I often found myself paying a lot for the connection (with Telus at the time) that I’m not completely using, in spite of a lower usage cap than my iPhone. By the time I got my iPad 2 less than a year later, I had already cancelled my iPad plan and bought myself a WiFi version instead. Now, less than a year and a half since the original iPad was released, I’m questioning whether Apple should even released a 3G/4G version whenever their next tablet is released. Here’s how I see it.

Free WiFi is Everywhere

If living in the city has taught me anything, it’s that there’s no lack of coffee shops, restaurants or unprotected wireless hotspots around for passersby to grab a quick connection and go. Sure, there are always concerns over data security and privacy, but for most tasks, free does the trick. Besides, the upfront cost of getting a 3G enabled iPad, the extortionist monthly carrier costs are just too prohibitive for ordinary Canadians to justify.

We Have Alternatives We Already Pay For

Now I haven’t seen the latest stats, but it’s probably a safe bet to say a large majority of iPad owners probably own a smartphone too, be it an iPhone, Android device or whatever. More and more of our smartphones are allowing us to tether other wireless devices to its data connection. Even for a marginal increase on our monthly bill, the overall cost is still much lower than having a dedicated connection on the iPad itself. Even for those without smartphones, there are still wireless hotspot capable devices on 2nd tier carriers (referring to Wind Mobile in this case) that are still affordable that offers a reliable connection and high usage caps at reasonable prices.

WiFi is More Universal Than 3G/4G Data

WiFi is a very well established technology and is pretty much standard around the world. Take your iPad anywhere and you’d be able to connect without worrying about compatibility issues or the like. This, however, can’t be said of wireless carrier data. Even for emerging standards such as. 4G (now being rolled out across major urban areas) there isn’t an agreed upon speed threshold, let alone standardized technical specifications. It’s possible (though unlikely) that Bell’s 4G network is incompatible with that of Rogers’. It’d be in Apple’s best interest to not even bother implementing these in their devices.

Wireless Carriers Don’t Make It Worth Our While

Unlike the iPhone, other smartphones or even other tablets, there simply isn’t the same kind of carrier subsidization for the iPad nor are there any enticing iPad specific plans data. From a value for value standpoint, there really is no compelling reason to sign up for an iPad only data plan. So why bother?

Apple is all about simplifying choice and making our tech buying decisions easier, so why do they want to keep providing a choice that neither gives them a real advantage against other tablets nor does it align with their simple and elegant mantra. Please Apple, just drop support for 3G on your next iPad. Make our lives a little simpler…please?

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  • Mike Fradette

    The 3G iPad has the A-GPS hardware which can be important if you’re traveling and have no idea where you are in a city.

  • Jim Royal

    Speak for yourself. I almost never use Wi-Fi on my iPad 2, and make use of 3G for most online activities.

  • Anonymous

    I bought a 64G 3G iPad 2 week one, becasue I couldn’t find a WiFi and didn’t want to wait.  With teathering, and the fact that I mostly use the iPad at home, I don’t see myself ever inserting a SIM card.  Whenever I upgrade (probably iPad 4), it will be WiFi only.

  • Cinargy

    I disagree with the writer. My company supplies me Blackberry with no way to tether it to iPad. Owning iPod touch taught me that most of the usability of an iDevice is lost when you are offline so when I bought my iPad2 it was clear to me that I want 3G. I love that I can buy and cancel data plans for Rogers on the device without talking to anyone, or paying for any hidden fees. I learned that the cheaper 250mb are enough for me many times, so if I need data I typically buy one of those and cancel the automatic renewal right away (it is actually cheaper to buy 2 plans of 250MB in one month, then to buy 5GB plan, if you only need less then 500MB).

    Only when I travel or go on vacation I buy the 5GB data plan and then I typically use most of it. Free WiFi is not available in Canada in many areas and it saves lots of time to be able to connect where you are and not hunt for free connections.

    In my recent vacation in remote cottage area in Manitoba, I was streaming movies from my home using air video pro to my 3G connection and it provided great entertainment, when we had hiking ban and not much to do.

    3G plans also allows me to do high quality Skype video chats with my family abroad while we are driving the highways (works amazing).

    The AGPS is nice as a backup when traveling and great add-on.

    To conclude, owning 3G iPad doesn’t require expensive unused data plans. You can enjoy great extra features that are worth the price difference.

  • Yarrenbool

    I purchased the iPad 2 64GB 3G knowing I will almost certainly never put a SIM card in it.

    The 3G has true GPS!

    I bought a great windshield dual-sucker iPad mount from RamMount and, with Navigon, I have a fantastic easy-to-read 10″ GPS in my car. It is truly great! I’m going to buy the iPad version of TomTom when it is released aparently later this year as it also will have all its maps on the iPad and I liked the way TomTom worked on my HP iPAQ handheld 210.

    For business users, can you really see them, in the middle of a meeting, saying: “Just a minute while I go to the McDonalds 2 blocks away to use their free WiFi to get those numbers for you.”?

  • Guest

    Yes and no.  I don’t use 3G here in Canada because I refuse to  pay the prices being asked and don’t really have a need for it.  When I am in London I use 3G all the time because there it’s cheap, and as mentioned, it’s needed for the GPS.

  • Guest

    3G version definitely needed.  It has the GPS which I find useful.  Also, Wifi is definitely not everythere that I go and not always stable.  On travel to the US, I can get a $25 monthly access anywhere in the city vs $10-$15 hotel access.
    I use Wifi probably 70% of the time and 3G 30%.

    Just got back from Hawaii using AT&T 3G access for $25.  I didn’t find one free wi-fi hotspot.

  • Guest

    3G version definitely needed.  It has the GPS which I find useful.  Also, Wifi is definitely not everythere that I go and not always stable.  On travel to the US, I can get a $25 monthly access anywhere in the city vs $10-$15 hotel access.
    I use Wifi probably 70% of the time and 3G 30%.

    Just got back from Hawaii using AT&T 3G access for $25.  I didn’t find one free wi-fi hotspot.

  • Yarrenbool

    How did you first go about getting an AT&T SIM card for your iPad. I’d like to get one here so that as soon as I cross the border into a fairly remote area of Vermont I can register and start using 3G without having to find an AT&T store.

  • Anonymous

    Disagree. I just spent a week at a tradeshow and 3G is what saved me as the Wifi wasn’t working due to the load by other attendees at the show. Being able to respond to critical emails and down time while at the booth was worth the 30 euro SIM card fee.

  • Drsly

    Oubviously, the writer did a good job of making the devil’s advocate to catch our interest :)
    You hooked me anyway. So, for me, I use the 3G in hospital because the Wifi is restricted. I also use it at the cottage, on the beach ( so when not in the city). Basics, for me that’s one of the best reason why I use my Ipad 2 3G more than my laptop: it’s just simpler to use and to be always connected. And the argument of the 15$ a day wifi fee in hotel room is also a good one.

  • Me

    Free Wifi is everywhere??? You don’t travel much do you? I’ve grown to loath your articles and only make to the bottom to comment! Can someone please get some better writers on this site?

    - written from my iPad, on 3G

  • Guest

    I had a friend in Texas that bought it for me.  However, I see that you can get this on eBay very easily.  I was surprised that it worked this year since it was about 12 months apart since I last used it.  I did have to register again but the same card worked.  I registered from home thru Wifi since there is no AT&T 3G connection here.  I used a Vanilla Mastercard from Shoppers Drug Mart.  I used an address from US (actually a Disney World hotel).  After submitting the request on the iPad, it normally activates within minutes if you have a 3G connection but  it will popup that it failed to activate since you don’t have an AT&T 3G connection.  You will get an email from AT&T saying you’ve subscribed.  When you cross the border and turn on the 3g on your ipad, it will activate.  I still got the Fail to Activate initially, but it was working within a minute.  I usually cancel the recurring charges while in the US, but I don’t see why it can’t be done over wifi back in Canada…..but why take the chance.  That’s another benefit to using the Vanilla card, you’ll be limited if you forget to cancel the recurring charges.  btw…if you read oher forums, only personal Amex cards seem to work for Canadians.  last year I used a vanilla card from the States.  this year, i used one from canada.  Hope that helps.

  • Anonymous

    When I decided to get an iPad there was no question that I wanted the 3G version. Like most people have mentioned, wifi is definitely *not* everythere, especially when you either live or travel in a rural area. 3G has been invaluable to me when traveling.