iPad's 3G unlimited service: US$30 a month on AT&T

Some will buy a Wi-Fi-only iPad and skip the 3G cost, analyst says

Apple's new iPad tablet provides Wi-Fi and adds 3G wireless on some models over AT&T's network in the U.S., at what many consider a bargain price for unlimited data of US$30 a month.

That $30 for unlimited data compares to $60 a month for the average broadband 3G card used in laptops, Apple CEO Steve Jobs proudly noted at today's Apple event. For $15, users would get 250MB of data service per month.

IPad customers will also pay an additional $130 to get the faster 3G capability, on top of the price of the three models. Prices are $499 for the 16GB model; $629 for a 3G 16GB model; $729 for a 3G 32GB model; and $829 for a 3G 64GB model. Wi-Fi-only models will be available in 60 days, while devices with 3G will ship in 90 days.

So of the two biggest questions facing users might well be: Do I need 3G? And if I get 3G, will it perform, since 3G on AT&T has been a problem for some iPhone users?

Carolina Milanesi, an analyst at research firm Gartner Inc., said having the iPad operate in some models as Wi-Fi only is a "clever move" because some users will use the device in their homes or in a classroom with a hot spot. "For some people, 3G is not necessarily what they want," she said in an interview.

After viewing the demonstration, Milanesi said she wanted to see how well the video streaming works in a 3G network, since it was probably presented in Apple's first demo over a Wi-Fi network.

"Definitely, the iPad is best going to be used for multimedia and browsing, so Wi-Fi works fine for that," since Wi-Fi can offer many times the speed of 3G, she said.

Conceivably, AT&T is going to somewhat control an explosion of data uses because it has so many Wi-Fi hot spots, with 20,000 in the U.S., she noted. For AT&T's 3G users, those hotspots will be free, although about 11,000 on McDonald's, for example, are already free.

Still, the iPad remains untested for full and reliable uses of video over 3G, which will become clearer when it ships to users who provide a wide array of speed tests for rich apps. If video runs well over 3G, that would be a "magical and revolutionary device," as Jobs predicted it would be.

Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld . Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen , send e-mail to mhamblen@computerworld.com or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed .

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