A better solution to 3G on the iPad

In Australia, the 3G iPad is $170 more expensive than the WiFi only version, and then you have to buy a data plan – which then only works on the iPad. It’s a rip-off, basically, although the carriers have come out with a number of reasonably-priced data plans.
Why I can Bluetooth tether my laptop to an iPhone but not an iPad probably has more to with deals being done between Apple and AT&T than any technical reason and the situation might change in the future, but in the meantime there is the issue of getting the iPad onto the Internet.
In my case, I didn’t believe when I ordered my iPad it would be used all that much away from a WiFi network, so I opted for the WiFi only version, hoping either Bluetooth tethering would be available in Australia, I could get a MiFi, or I’d just learn to cope with connecting with my iPhone when WiFi isn’t available.
Well, Apple didn’t switch on tethering. Maybe with iOS 4 due out in a few months, but I doubt it. Apple is selling too many 3G versions, so it’s more likely in an updated unit in a year.
The MiFi is a Novatel device described as an Intelligent Mobile Hotspot. I thought genuine artificial intelligence was something the boffins were still striving for, but maybe Novatel’s cracked it…
Anyway, the MiFi is a small device – similar in size and shape to a business card holder – which connects to a 3G mobile phone network and creates it’s own WiFi network. You can connect up to five devices to your MiFi at any one time, so the same data plan can provide Internet access to your iPad, laptop, phone and still have provision for two more devices. A number of podcasts from the USA have been basically raving about the device – but here they are $399 unlocked or $299 on a 24 (!) month contract.
Hmm… Don’t know if I’m going to get enough usage to justify that sort of cost.
Enter from stage left the Virgin Mobile Pre-paid WiFi modem. $149 with 3Gb of data (in the first month, and since I purchased the offer has been bumped to five GB).
An oval-shaped device about the size of the older plug-in style USB modems, the Virgin unit allows three devices to connect, runs data from the Optus network and is easy to set up and use.
Spend $80 on a recharge and Virgin will unlock it for you, but before you ask it doesn’t run on Telstra’s 850khz Next-G network, so getting great coverage out of major centres isn’t going to be easy.
Pricing for a recharge runs from $15 for 500mb (expiring in 30 days) to $149 for 12GB, but that one lasts a year.
The one real downside to the Virgin unit I’ve discovered so far is charging – there are bugs in the way the battery recharges. Turns out it really only likes charging off a USB port in a computer loaded with the Virgin software, but that wasn’t a hassle to load on my Mac. It also lets the device run as a standard USB modem even if the battery is flat.
That doesn’t solve the problem of charging the unit on the road when you haven’t taken your computer, which is the point, isn’t it? Whirlpool.org has a forum thread with people saying various Motorola and Blackberry chargers work fine, but not older iPhone and many other USB chargers. I don’t think the iPad charger works, which is a big shame. I’m using a Hahnel universal charger which my wife Corinne bought when she accidentally took the wrong Panasonic charger to Sydney for a weekend. It charges AA and camera pack-style batteries and has a USB charging port, too. Like many USB chargers it doesn’t seem to charge the WiFi modem, but removing the battery and charging it independently works fine. The charger is bigger than the unit, but I carry it when traveling anyway because it can charge my iPhone, flash, camera, iPad and now WiFi unit.


Published by Nigel Paterson

Writer, photographer, videographer, motorcyclist, parent...

3 thoughts on “A better solution to 3G on the iPad

  1. Nigel, can you develop new posts for your blog on your iPad? I can’t on Blogger – the keypad doesn’t come up in the new post screen. But I can put a comment in your blog. Any ideas?

    1. I’ve not used Blogger, but I’m surprised you’re having problems like those. You might need to splash out on an App – BlogPress says it supports Blogger, for $3.99. Alternatively, switch to WordPress, tier App is freeā€¦

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