Ever since the launch of the first iPad back in 2010, Apple always offered two different versions of iPads: Wi-Fi-only and Wi-Fi+cellular models.
While every iPad can access the internet by connecting to Wi-Fi networks, only the cellular-enabled models can access 4G LTE (and pretty soon, 5G) cellular networks provided by various network providers. To connect to these cellular networks, however, you’ll need to get the right iPad cellular data plans to connect to the 3G or 4G LTE services.
Wi-Fi-Only VS Cellular iPad: How To Choose
A cellular-enabled iPad would typically cost $130 to $150 more than a comparable Wi-FI-only iPad, and if you want to take full advantage of the cellular connection, you’ll need to also pay the monthly iPad data plan fees.
So, is paying this extra cost worth it?
There are two main advantages of the Wi-Fi+cellular iPad over the Wi-Fi-only model:
- First, obviously, is cellular data connectivity. With an iPad cellular data plan, you can connect to the internet via 3G/4G LTE cellular network even when Wi-Fi connectivity isn’t available. However, keep in mind that if you have a smartphone (i.e. iPhone), you can use the tethering (Personal Hotspot) function on your smartphone to allow the iPad to use the phone’s data connection to go online. Although this is a huge battery drain for the phone, this is still a viable option. This is where the second advantage comes into play.
- Only the cellular-enabled iPad has a dedicated GPS antenna. Wi-Fi-only iPad uses Wi-Fi and Bluetooth triangulation to determine its location, which, although pretty accurate, is still inferior to a true GPS triangulation. Meaning, cellular-enabled iPad is more accurate when you use services like Maps or Find My iPad.
Based on these two core advantages, here are some considerations why you might or might not need a Wi-Fi+cellular iPad.
You Might Want a Cellular-Enabled iPad If:
- You’ll frequently use the iPad in areas without Wi-Fi, probably the most important reason
- You are going to travel a lot with your iPad
- You live/work in an area without internet access (Wi-Fi) available, but there is cellular coverage.
- You are going to use your iPad to serve as a Personal Hotspot that will provide internet access to other devices like a laptop or even your smartphone
- You’d like to access content (books, videos, music) online without having to download them in advance
- You often use Apps that require internet access to work like navigation apps, online games, etc.
- You often use Apps that require GPS location services (i.e. Maps), and you need to use GPS when driving
- You need versatility to use Facetime and Zoom/Skype even in times without available Wi-Fi signal
If you’ve said yes to most of those reasons above, then you might want to get a cellular-enabled iPad with the corresponding iPad data plan.
Factors to Consider When Choosing Between Different iPad Cellular Data Plans
- Data Usage
Most of us obviously already have an ongoing data plan with our smartphone which will be our primary source of internet access.
Meaning, most likely you won’t need that much data with your iPad and at least, you’ll need less data than your phone.
So, first, assess how much data you’ll actually need from your iPad data plan. If you, for example, only use 1 or 2 GBs of data each month, then you might not need an expensive unlimited iPad data plan.
- Data coverage
Another important consideration is to ensure your iPad cellular data plan provides reliable coverage in locations where you’ll most frequently use the iPad, especially in locations without available Wi-Fi.
If you travel a lot, newer iPads with eSIM (embedded SIM) or Apple SIM can provide you the advantage of using international or even global iPad data plans, so you don’t need to purchase new SIM cards from new network providers every time you land in a new country.
Data only SIM for iPad, for example, offers international coverage in 44 different countries by partnering with various tier-1 cellular networks all over the world.
- Personal Hotspot allowance
Different iPad data plans might offer a dedicated Hotspot allowance so it won’t count toward your primary data limit, so this can be an important consideration if you plan to share your iPad’s internet access via Personal Hotspot.
Some other iPad cellular data plans might simply allow you to share data out of the plan’s primary data allowance when using Personal Hotspot.
- Contract details and versatility
It’s important to check the fine print of your contract and all the details for example whether you can get out of the contract any time or you’d need to pay a penalty.
Some iPad data plans, for example, may offer unlimited data, while in truth it will rate-limit the bandwidth after you’ve used a certain amount of data every month. Some international iPad data plans also offer ‘free’ international roaming, but may only offer very slow bandwidth while you are away from your home country, and you’ll be required to pay more to get the normal speed.
There are certainly a lot of great deals on iPad cellular data plans available for your cellular-enabled iPad, but it’s important to choose the right one that fits your current needs, especially one that offers a reliable connection in your local area. We’d recommend first to check your carrier’s coverage map so you can check the coverage reliability and speeds in your area.