iPad 3G Costs Raise Spotlight on Compounding Internet Access Fees
So Many Devices, So Many Access Fees!
It's wonderful that we have so many wireless digital devices to enrich our lives and hopefully make ourselves more productive. But, just how many times should I have to pay for Internet access?
After the iPad launch, the New York Times Bits blog asked: To 3G or not 3G? I'm leaning towards an iPad with WiFi (no 3G), because if anything, I'm trying to reduce the number of providers I pay for Internet access. For now, the only thing AT&T allows us to tether to devices is our wallets...
At home, I pay Comcast about $45/mo. for broadband Internet access. On my iPhone, I pay AT&T $30/mo for unlimited data access. For the past couple of years, I've paid Verizon $60/mo. for 3G wireless access on my laptop via a USB modem so that I don't have to rely on often shaky public WiFi. If I purchase an iPad with 3G, AT&T wants another $30/mo for unlimited data access. Add it all up, $165/mo. for Internet access fees.
Consolidating My Paid Internet Access
The Overdrive (MobileCrunch review), offered by Sprint for $49-$99 with a two year plan, provides fast 4G access in major cities and fallback to 3G access when in other areas. It acts as a portable router providing WiFi access to up to five devices.
If you're lucky enough to live in a city with 4G, there are performance gains to be had when you're using your modem locally. Sprint is quoting a competitive $59/mo price for 4G/3G plan right now. Also, 4G plans offer unlimited data access. Furthermore, if you live alone at home, you may be able to ditch your DSL/cable modem for your portable 4G device.
The MiFi is a credit card sized portable router which provides 3G Internet access for five devices simultaneously. Most providers offer the MiFi free with a two year plan and the monthly fees are about the same. I'm encouraged by reviews (JKOnTheRun and CNET) that seem to indicate the MiFi powers up and connects in seconds, offers 4+ hours of operation under regular usage and recharges easily via USB. The MiFi costs about $200 without a data plan, which may also be an attractive price.
Theoretically, using a small, portable router like the MiFi or Overdrive might allow me to get by without Comcast or any AT&T data plan (iPhone or iPad). Wouldn't that be nice.
Prospective iPad Buyers: To 3G or not 3G?
Steve Jobs said many folks may be able to get by with AT&T's $14.95/mo. 250 MB package with the iPad. I'm skeptical of this. Pundits differ, The New York Times says, "In short, paying $15 per month wouldn’t be enough to catch an hour of live baseball over the 3G network and would just barely cover six hours of Web browsing." while Glenn Fleishman says he's used only about 270 MB/mo. on his iPhone. Fleishman includes instructions to check your own iPhone data usage. My own was less than 200 MB/mo. But, the whole point of the iPad is that the larger screen size and fast performance is going to make us want to browse the Web more, much more - and watch more video from HD YouTube clips to iTunes movie rentals. I just don't think the iPhone is a good comparison to your likely iPad data usage.
In general, the iPad is a device I'll use in coffee shops and at home - not so much on the go. And, it's a first generation device, likely to be quickly outmoded in a year. So, I'm going to buy one of the cheaper WiFi iPads and look at switching to a MiFi or Overdrive to consolidate my Internet access costs with my laptop and other devices.
The Root Issue is Broadband Rights
The real issue here however is the failure of government entities to provide high performance Internet access in the form of municipal WiFi. This article on the Killer App of 1900 by Fleishman (via Slashdot) compares early debates about access to electricity to public broadband. Here's hoping one day we can get free high speed access for all of our devices wherever we live without paying an arm and a leg and an arm and a leg etc.
Or, you could hold your breath for wireless companies to offer subscribers a univeral access account or device tethering. Good luck with that.