When you think about using your iPad on a 3G network, the first thing that comes to mind for most people is AT&T.  Why, you ask?  Well, AT&T is the provider for Apple’s iPhone, and soon to be for Apple’s iPad with 3G.  However, there are other cell providers out there that are trying to get in on AT&T’s turf, by offering their Data products to work with your Wi-Fi iPad.

Olga Kharif of BusinessWeek is reporting that this is in fact the case.  You have the likes of Sprint and Verizon that are promoting their 3G/4G and 3G data networks to tether with your iDevices.  Sprint recently aired a commercial that shows that an iPhone customer can use their Overdrive 3G/4G Hotspot to connect to the Internet.  Verizon also has their own 3G device called the MiFi, that offers the same service.

Sprint & Verizon’s Data Plans

I would be careful not to jump too quickly into these other devices.  They both come with steep data plans and contracts. Let’s look at Sprint’s data plans.  Sprint’s data plans are $59.99 a month for 5GB of data over the 3G network, and unlimited data over the 4G network, plus you have to sign a two year contract.  The other caveat is that Sprint doesn’t offer 4G everywhere.  If your not in their service area you will not get 4G.  So after two years of use you would have paid out $1,439.76 in data costs.  Then add in the cost of the device, which is $99.99 after rebates.  In addition, you also take into account the cost of the iPad.  For the sake of this article I’m going to use the 16GB iPad Wi-Fi.  So you add an additional $499.00.  I’m going to leave the tax out since the tax varies by location, buy your out of pocket expense after two years for Sprint would be $1,938.76.

Now let’s look at Verizon’s MiFi 2200.  Verizon’s data plans are similar to Sprints; however, they don’t offer an unlimited data plan.  What they do offer though is a prepaid plan with no contracts, but if you don’t get a contract you’ll probably pay full price for the MiFi.  Verizon’s data plans with a contract are somewhat similar to AT&T’s, in the way they breakdown the two plans.  They offer 5GB of data for $59.99, and 250MB of data for $39.99.  The MiFi after rebates will run $49.99.  For this scenario I will use the 5GB data plan.  After two years of service you would of paid $1439.76 for the data plan.  Now, add in the cost of the iPad Wi-Fi, and your total out of pocket after two years would be $1,936.76.

The cost is identical from both carriers.  Now if you chose the lesser plan from Verizon, your cost will be cheaper.  The only good thing from either of these two devices, is that you can connect up to five wireless devices to them.  So if you and some friends want to go in on the costs, you’ll be saving even more money.

AT&T’s Data Plan

Now let’s look at AT&T’s data plan with an iPad Wi-Fi/3G.  There are two data plans that AT&T offers.  One is $14.99 for 250MB of data, and the other is $29.99 for unlimited data.  Plus with AT&T you don’t have to sign a two year contract.  They are offering monthly plans.  I’m going to use the $29.99 data plan in this scenario.  Then you add in the cost of a 16GB iPad Wi-Fi/3G at $629.00.  Since AT&T’s data plan is monthly, I’ll say that the customer will use twelve months throughout a two year period.  Your out of pocket cost after two years would be $359.88.  Obviously if you would use more months this number would be higher.  Now add in the cost of the iPad, and your out of pocket cost is $988.88.  With this scenario you would have saved about $947.88 over the two year period.  That’s a lot of iPads.

Wi-Fi Hotspots

BusinessWeek also notes that wireless hotspot providers are also vying for your business, in the way of low cost access to their hotspots.  Boingo Wireless is one of them, and  BusinessWeek explains how Boingo Wireless will charge and provide their hotspot service:

“Boingo Wireless, which sells Wi-Fi access in airports, convention centers, and other public places, on Mar. 29 announced it would begin selling $2-an-hour access to more than 125,000 Wi-Fi hotspots for iPad users. Consumers can purchase the access directly through Apple’s iTunes online store. Boingo Chief Executive Dave Hagan says he expects especially strong demand in New York and San Francisco, where AT&T’s cellular network has suffered from congestion. “If it’s not working very well, Wi-Fi is there,” he says. The iPad “is going to be a very big opportunity for companies like ours.””

AT&T also offers free Wi-Fi hotspots to its current iPhone data plan customers.  I hope this extends to the Wi-Fi iPad as well.  Wi-Fi is a viable alternative to using 3G/4G data plans.  The only issue is that there aren’t enough hotspots to take the place of cellular broadband.  I believe when Wi-Fi becomes ubiquitous, this will cause a paradigm shift in how we connect to our devices to the Internet.  This past holiday season Google placed free Wi-Fi hotspots in Airports around the United States.  I hope they continue this in the future.  With companies like Boingo Wireless offering low cost connectivity, and AT&T and Google offering free hotspots, this will cause more people to start second guessing how they want to connect their mobile devices to the Internet.

The one good thing I can see in all of this is that we now have more options than just the AT&T 3G route.  Some of these alternatives will cost you more, but if you find these alternatives to suit your needs, then you will definitely benefit from them.  However, I believe that the majority of people will choose the Wi-Fi route.  The other good thing that all of this brings is competition in the Market.  When there is competition in the Market, we the consumer wins in the end.

Photo Credit: Novatel Wireless MiFi 2200 for Verizon

Article Via BusinessWeek