Living on the EDGE with an iPad
Wi-Fi is the chief way to prowl the virtual corridors of cyberspace (or send email, access the App Store or iTunes Store, or check out YouTube) on the iPad. But for all the places where you can find an Internet hotspot nowadays — airports, colleges, coffeehouses, offices, schools, and yes, homes — Wi-Fi still isn’t available everywhere.
If you bought an older iPad model with 3G cellular, there were different models for different carriers and your iPad would be married to that carrier forever more. For example, the AT&T iPads had Wi-Fi and 3G cellular but could also use the older, slower AT&T EDGE service if 3G wasn’t available. Verizon’s iPad worked only with its CDMA EV-DO Rev network.
Fortunately, you can avoid the jargon these days because in October 2014 iPads started to include all kinds of cellular radios that work with high-speed data networks from all supported carriers — AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, and T-Mobile — in the United States.
Here’s the list of network technologies for iPad Air 2, iPad Mini 3 and 4, and iPad Pro:
UMTS/ HSPA/ HSPA+/ DC‑HSDPA (850, 900, 1700/2100, 1900, 2100 MHz)
GSM/EDGE (850, 900, 1800, 1900 MHz)
CDMA EV-DO Rev. A and Rev. B (800, 1900 MHz)
LTE (Bands 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 13, 17, 18, 19, 20, 25, 26, 28, 29, 38, 39, 40, 41)
The iPad Air 2, iPad Mini 3 and 4, and iPad Pro come with a preinstalled Apple SIM card when you buy your iPad from Apple and most retailers. The cool part is that the Apple SIM isn’t tied to a specific wireless carrier; instead, it supports 20 LTE bands.
As of October 2015, only the following carriers were available: AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and GigSky in the United States, plus EE and GigSky in the United Kingdom; expect to see more in the future. If you’re not already committed to a data plan, you can tap Settings→Cellular Data→Set Up Cellular Data and choose a new cellular data plan (or add your iPad to an existing data plan).
If you buy your iPad from Apple, you get the Apple SIM and all of its attendant goodies. But if you buy your iPad from a wireless carrier such as Verizon, Sprint, or AT&T, your iPad will be tied to their data network exclusively unless you buy a new Apple SIM from Apple or your wireless carrier.
Data plans vary and are subject to change. Currently, the AT&T pay-per-use plan ranges from $5 for a 250MB day pass to $50 for a 6GB 30-day pass. The Sprint plans also start at $5. Verizon Wireless has a 1GB monthly plan for $20, with additional plans from there.
Meanwhile, T-Mobile iPad users get 200MB of free 4G LTE data every month for as long as they own their tablet (even if they aren’t T-Mobile customers).
Cellular customers prepay for cellular access by using a credit card. Fortunately, no one- or two-year contract commitment is required, as is most likely the case with the phone in your pocket. That means if you’re hiking in the Swiss Alps for a month, or otherwise indisposed, you don’t have to pay AT&T or Verizon or other carriers for Internet access you’re not using.
Cellular-ready iPads also work on GSM/UMTS network technologies that perform outside the United States, although you may have to pop in a different SIM card to get it going abroad without Wi-Fi. Depending on your carrier and where you happen to be, you may see different network flavors, including HSPA, HSPA+, and DC-HSDPA — the fastest 3G and 4G networks out there as of this writing.
The iPad automatically hops onto the fastest available network, which is almost always Wi-Fi, the friendly moniker applied to the far-geekier 802.11 designation.
And “eight-oh-two-dot-eleven” (as it’s pronounced) is followed by a letter — typically (but not always) b, g, or n. You see it written as 802.11b, 802.11g, and so on. The letters relate to differing technical standards that have to do with the speed and range you can expect from the Wi-Fi configuration. But you shouldn’t lose any sleep over this issue if you haven’t boned up on this geeky alphabet.
For the record, because the iPad adheres to 802.11a, b, g, and n standards (plus 802.11ac in the iPad Air 2, iPad mini 4, and iPad Pro), you’re good to go pretty much anywhere you can find Wi-Fi. If you have to present a password to take advantage of a for-fee hotspot, you can enter it by using the iPad’s virtual keyboard.
To monitor your cellular network usage, tap Settings→Cellular Data→and peek at Cellular Data Usage for the current period. You can also view how much cellular data you used while roaming and how much cellular data you used for specific apps.
Indeed, if you’re consuming a lot of data for a given app and can live without that app for a while, at least when Wi-Fi is out of reach, tap the switch to turn it off (gray will be showing instead of green). On the day you start your monthly data plan, tap the Reset Statistics button at the bottom of the Usage pane (you may have to scroll down to see it).