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

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Personal Hotspots. If you are a Sprint wireless customer and you have a Palm Pre or the new HTC EVO, then you already have in your hand a device capable of creating its own personal hotspot that can connect a handful of devices and share out the wireless connection.

A similar option would be to get a personal mobile hotspot like the MiFi from Verizon or Sprint. The device is $270 full price, but like a smartphone you can get it at a significantly lower, subsidized price if you are willing to accept a two-year contract. Whether you enter into a contract or not, the service is $60 per month for 5Gb of monthly data capacity from both carriers (although Sprint also includes unlimited data over 4G where that network is available).

There are also some other less orthodox methods. For example, there is an undocumented feature of Windows 7 that allows you to turn a laptop into a portable hotspot as well. However, when you get to the point where you are carrying your Windows 7 laptop so you can access the Internet from your iPad, I think you have crossed some sort of line in terms of practicality.

Tethering. This is speculation at this point. There have been leaks and rumors suggesting that the new iPhone OS will be capable of tethering. The fact that AT&T has dropped unlimited data, and added a new tethering option where they let you give them $20 a month for the privilege of having the option to tether--but without any additional data allocation--also implies that tethering will be coming soon.

Leaked images suggest that iPhone OS 4.0 will include tethering.
However, there is a difference between tethering--which implies a wired connection between the two devices--and sharing a smartphone as a wi-fi hotspot. So, tethering an iPad would require some sort of cable to attach it to a smartphone or other wireless device. Assuming that the next generation iPhone OS will somehow allow the iPhone and iPad to connect and share the data connection without wires, the iPad is still not slated to get the new OS for another few months.

Users that have unlimited data plans on both their smartphone and iPad right now are paying $60 a month for that service ($30 for each unlimited plan). If AT&T's data is accurate, 65 percent of those users are consuming less than 200Mb per month, and 98 percent are consuming less than 2Gb. Subscribing to the new 2Gb data plan for $25, adding the tethering option for $20, and adding $10 for the overage if the combined data consumption of the two devices exceeds 2Gb will accomplish roughly the same results for $5 a month less.

The iPad is designed as a Web-enabled, media and data consumption device. The megabytes can add up quickly, so IT administrators need to be diligent when examining the data needs of mobile users with iPads and consider carefully the available options for getting to the data.

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