Knowledge Base

Choose between WiFI and Cellular Data Service for iPad

When choosing an iPad you have an important initial decision to make. Do you want an iPad that only uses WiFi (a.k.a. wireless Internet access) to connect to the Interent or do you want an iPad that in addition to WiFi uses cellular data service and works and is billed like a mobile phone?

For the definitive information about iPad models and specifications, please go to the Apple.com website:

http://www.apple.com/ipad/compare/

In summary, the iPad 2 (second version of iPad) has a choice of models of WiFi-only OR 3G cellular service + WiFI. The iPad with Retina Display (third version of iPad) and iPad Mini have a choice of models of WiFi-only OR cellular data service (cellular service options vary depending on service carrier and location) + WiFi.

Below please see our information about these two types of iPads to help you decide which type of iPad to choose for your specific budget, work needs and preferences.

WiFi-Only iPad

A WiFi-only model iPad connects to the Internet using wireless or WiFi access. This means when you are in a location without WiFi you cannot get on the Internet, make phone calls/Skype/Facetime, send/receive email and some Apps that rely on Internet access will not work.

A WiFi-only model iPad cannot be made into a celluar data service iPad. It does not have the components that allow for cellular data service. If you order or purchase a WiFi only iPad you cannot change your mind and then use it with celluar service, for that you must purchase a celluar service version iPad model.

When to choose the WiFi-Only iPad:

  • you do not want to use your iPad as a phone
  • you're mainly going to use your iPad where there is WiFi access (e.g., at home, conferences, on-campus)
  • you're going to download books/texts to your device and use your iPad as an e-reader
  • you're going to download media (images/video/music) to your device and use your iPad as a media player
  • you're going to travel with your iPad but don't need to get online except when WiFi is available such as at your lodging, conference site, campus or Internet cafes
  • you want to spend as little as possible on the iPad itself and you do not want to pay the monthly cellular data service
  • you need to shoot photos/video with the camera but can store them on the device and wait to download them until you have WiFi access
  • you're going to use Apps that don't require Internet access to work (e.g., music training/composition, drawing, some games, writing, reference, etc.)

Cellular Data Service iPad

iPads enabled with celluar data service work in a similar way to cell/mobile phones. There is a fee to purchase the iPad device and also a monthly fee for the cellular data service with a monthly data transfer limit. The higher your data transfer limit, the higher the monthly fee. If you exceed your monthly data transfer limit, there are overage charges which can be very expensive.

The cellular service plan for the device is billed through a carrier, in the case of Amherst College the carrier is Verizon. Depending on the carrier, the iPad model, and your location, you may have various celluar plan options including in some cases the choice of 3G or 4G cellular data service.

Please note: AT&T isĀ NOT available as a carrier for Amherst College provided iPads, the College has a contract with Verizon as our cellular service provider. If your iPad is a personal device, you can choose your own carrier as you wish.

The cellular data service models of the iPad with Retina Display and iPad Mini (latest versions of iPad) are designed to access a large frequency spectrum. This means these iPad models will work well in most locations globally that have cellular service.

If you have cellular data service, when you are in a location with WiFi, you can use the iPad Settings to temporarily turn off your cellular data service and use a WiFi connection instead. This will help you to avoid exceeding the maximum allowed data transfer on your monthly cellular plan and save on data service charges. It is recommended to use WiFi whenever it's available (on-campus, in a hotel, or at a conference for example). Reserve the cellular data service for when there is no WiFi available to you.

Please note: Using the iPad settings to switch to WiFi when available does not change your monthly cellular data service fee, but it will help you to avoid going over your data transfer limit and/or might limit long distance charges as applicable.

When to choose the Celluar Data Service iPad:

  • you want to use your iPad as a phone
  • you're going to use your iPad away from WiFi access and/or while traveling
  • you're going to use your iPad in the field where there is cellular coverage but no WiFi
  • you live or work somewhere without Internet access but with cell phone coverage and you want your iPad to serve as a personal hotspot and proivde a WiFi signal to other devices such as a computer (iPad with Retina Display and iPad Mini only)
  • you need to be able to access books/texts/music/photos/video online as needed without having to download them in advance
  • you are OK with paying more for the iPad device and also paying for monthly cellular data service and abiding by the monthly data transer limits imposed by the data service plan
  • you need to use GPS applications when traveling, while in a car or hiking for example
  • you need to shoot photos/video with the camera and immediately upload them/put them online
  • you need to use Skype/Facetime on the go and cannot wait until a WiFi signal is available
  • you're going to use Apps that require Internet access to work (e.g., GPS navigation, restaurant/event/site-seeing locators/recommenders, interactive games or interactive content production, etc.)