Making Sense of Your iPad Options with New AT&T Data Plans

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With the death of AT&T's unlimited data plan, Cost-conscious IT administrators now need to put more effort into understanding how much bandwidth is consumed, and which option makes the most sense from both an operational and financial perspective.

When Steve Jobs unveiled the iPad to the world in January, one of the most innovative things about the tablet device was the ability to enable or disable unlimited 3G data on the fly through AT&T without being shackled by a contractual obligation. However, AT&T pulled a little bait-and-switch, and now only two months after the launch of the iPad the rules have changed.Let's take a look at what your options are now for connecting the iPad to the rest of the world.

Connecting a 3G iPad

You can still turn the 3G data connectivity on or off with a click or two from the iPad, making the 3G version of the iPad a more versatile option for business professionals that might need to get access to critical resources in a pinch when no wi-fi network is available. However, it could get expensive now depending on the amount of data involved.

The good news is that customers already subscribed to the unlimited data plan are grandfathered and can continue using the unlimited plan as long as they choose. The bad news is that if you ever turn off the unlimited data plan you won't be able to get it back again, so you are in effect forced to continue paying monthly forever on your "no contract" data plan if you want to keep the unlimited access.

New iPad 3G customers, or customers that abandon existing unlimited data plans, will be forced to choose between the new limited data plans--either 200Mb of data for $15, or 2Gb of data for $25. You can use the AT&T Data Calculator to try and estimate the amount of data you expect to consume on a monthly basis and choose the plan that makes the most sense.

Existing customers who have already been using the 3G connectivity of the iPad should be able to view the data usage history online, or at least get that information by contacting AT&T. If the history shows that you are using less than 200Mb, or 2Gb as the case may be, each month then you can switch to one of the new plans and save a few bucks. However, if you are using more than 2Gb per month of data, and that seems likely to continue, get the unlimited plan now and keep it.

Connecting a Wi-Fi iPad

There are other options as well, though--for both wi-fi only iPads and 3G-capable iPads in search of a non AT&T 3G alternative.

Public Wi-Fi. It won't help you pull up a purchase order, or marketing presentation when visiting a client site with no 3G signal and no access to a wireless network, but there are free public hotspots virtually everywhere. McDonald's provides free wi-fi, and you can find the ubiquitous Golden Arches on almost any street corner, so a free wireless connection is never very far away.

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