Cellular-Enabled iPads and iPad Minis

Some models of the iPad and iPad mini come with a cellular chip and antenna that enable those tablets to connect to a cellular network. The big advantage here is that you can use your tablet online even when there’s no Wi-Fi within miles of your location.

As long as you’re within the cellular network’s coverage area, you can send and receive email, surf the web, map a location, and perform all your other favorite online activities. The one disadvantage is that cellular connections aren’t free. You’ll need a data plan from your favorite (if that’s the right word) cellular provider.

Connections to a cellular network are automatic and occur behind the scenes. As soon as you switch on your cellular-enabled iPad or iPad mini, it checks for an LTE signal. If it finds one, it connects to the network and displays the LTE (or 4G) icon in the status bar, as well as the connection strength (the more bars, the better).

If your current area doesn’t do the LTE thing, your tablet tries to connect to the slower 3G network. If that works, you see the 3G icon in the status bar, as well as the signal strength. If there’s no 3G network within range, your tablet looks for an EDGE network instead.

If that works, you see the E icon in the status bar (plus the usual signal strength bars). If none of that works, you see No Signal, so you might as well go home.

Track cellular data usage

Having a data plan with a cellular provider means never having to worry about getting access to the network. However, unless you’re paying for unlimited access (lucky you!), you should be worrying about going over whatever maximum amount of data usage your plan provides per month. That’s because going over your data max means you start paying through the nose for each megabyte, and you can run up a hefty bill in no time.

To avoid that, keep track of your cellular data usage by following these steps:

  1. On the Home screen, tap Settings to fire up the Settings app.

  2. Tap Cellular Data to open the Cellular Data screen.

  3. In the Cellular Data Usage section, read the Current Period and Current Period Roaming values.

  4. If you’re at the end of your data period, tap Reset Statistics to start with fresh values for the new period.

The cellular usage values are meaningful only if they correspond to your monthly data cycle with your provider. Check with your cellular provider to see which day of the month your data resets. On that day, follow the previous steps to open the Cellular Usage screen, and then tap Reset Statistics. When the iPad or iPad mini asks you to confirm, tap Reset.

Disable data roaming

Data roaming is an often convenient cellular plan feature that enables you to surf the web, check and send e-mail, and exchange text messages when you’re outside your provider’s normal coverage area.

The downside is that, unless you’ve got a fixed-rate roaming package from your cellular provider, roaming charges are almost always eye-poppingly expensive — they’re often several dollars per minute or megabyte, depending on where you are and what type of service you’re using.

Unfortunately, if you have the iPad or iPad mini Data Roaming feature turned on, you may incur massive roaming charges, even if you never use the device. That’s because your iPad or iPad mini still performs background checks for things like incoming e-mail and text messages. As a result, one week in some far-off land could cost you hundreds of dollars, even if you never turn on your tablet.

To avoid this insanity, follow these steps to turn off Data Roaming when you don’t need it:

  1. On the Home screen, tap Settings to launch the Settings app.

  2. Tap Cellular Data. The Cellular Data screen opens.

  3. Tap the Data Roaming On/Off button to change this setting to Off. Settings disables data roaming.

Turn off LTE

Using the LTE cellular network is a real pleasure because it’s so much faster than a 3G connection (which, in turn, is much faster than a molasses-in-January EDGE connection). If LTE has a downside, it’s that it uses up a lot of battery power.

That’s true even if you’re currently connected to a Wi-Fi network, because the LTE antenna is constantly looking for an LTE signal. If you’ll be on your Wi-Fi network for a while, or if the battery is running low and you don’t need an LTE cellular connection, you can follow these steps to turn off the LTE antenna and reduce the load on your tablet’s battery:

  1. On the Home screen, tap Settings to open the Settings app.

  2. Tap Cellular Data. The Cellular Data screen opens.

  3. Tap the Enable LTE switch to Off. Settings turns off the LTE antenna.

Turn off cellular data

If you’ve reached the limit of your cellular data plan, you almost certainly want to avoid going over the cap because the charges are usually prohibitively expensive. As long as you have a Wi-Fi network in range, or you’re disciplined enough not to surf the web or cruise YouTube when there’s no Wi-Fi in sight, you’ll be okay.

Still, accidents can happen. For example, you might accidentally tap a link in an e-mail message or text message, or someone in your household might use your iPad without knowing about your restrictions.

To prevent these sorts of accidents (or if you simply don’t trust yourself when it comes to YouTube), you can turn off cellular data altogether, which means your iPad or iPad mini only accesses Internet data if it has a Wi-Fi signal. Follow these steps to turn off cellular data:

  1. On the Home screen, tap Settings to bring up the Settings app.

  2. Tap Cellular Data. The Cellular Data screen opens.

  3. Tap the Cellular Data switch to the Off position. Settings disconnects from your cellular connection.

Control cellular data usage

Rather than turning off cellular data completely, you can take a more targeted approach. For example, if you’re a bit worried about going over your cellular plan’s data ceiling, it makes sense to avoid relatively high-bandwidth items such as FaceTime and iTunes, but not relatively low-bandwidth content such as iCloud documents and Safari’s reading list.

You could just police this yourself but, hey, you’re a busy person and you might forget the next time a FaceTime call comes in and you’re in a cellular-only neighborhood. Try leaving the details to your iPad or iPad mini by configuring it not to allow certain content types over a cellular connection. To get set up, follow these steps:

  1. On the Home screen, tap Settings. The Settings app appears.

  2. Tap Cellular Data. The Cellular Data screen opens.

  3. In the Use Cellular Data for section, tap the switch to Off for each type of content you want to ban from cellular.