Will the 250 MB plan suffice on the iPad?

The recently-announced iPad by Apple has an optional 3G modem in models that are $129 more than those just with WiFi. Additionally, AT&T offers two data plans for 3G connectivity. The unlimited plan is priced at $29.99 per month, just like the iPhone plan and 250 MB per month plan (upload and download) costs $14.99 per month. Initially I thought 250 MB would hardly be sufficient considering the rich media like photos and videos that we stream over our devices.

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Glenn Fleishman, after reading a tweet, checked his data usage [via] on the iPhone and surprisingly found that he had used only 1.7GB over past 7 months or about 270 MB per month. This led me to check my data usage for the past seven months that I have owned the iPhone. Got to the Settings app and select General > Usage and scroll down to the Cellular Network Data section and add Sent and Received. Like Glenn I have not yet reset my usage statistics so these figures are over the period I have owned the iPhone. As you see in the adjacent image, I have used 1145 MB over 7 months that amounts to nearly 163 MB per month. That’s it. I see YouTube videos, stream music over Pandora and Dhingana, use Tweetie and Email multiple times a day, and sometimes even end up downloading app updates over the 3G network. But yet, I seem to use far less than 250 MB per month. Even during the month when we were on vacation in San Francisco and used the iPhone extensively, I used up only 144 MB in December-January. so what gives? Why even opt for an unlimited plan on the iPad when you seem to use far less than the lower priced option?

First, how come the data usage is so low even though you seem to be downloading the Internet on your iPhone? As Glenn explains, your iPhone switches to open or allowed WiFi as soon as you are in its vicinity (home or office). You can even access AT&T’s hotspots while you are out and can also avail of free wireless networks in coffee shops or MacDonalds. So in a way, you are less reliant on 3G than you think especially if you don’t travel much or don’t play a leading role in ‘Up in the Air’. Second, with the iPad serving as a middle ground between the iPhone and your Macbook, the chances of using it away from home or office are even less and thus likely to be used primarily over WiFi. And if you do want to use a no-contract 3G connection, the better option would be to go for the lower priced one. But you may use the iPad for more data-intensive tasks than you use your iPhone so the data usage might be higher. But how much higher can always be experimented with and having no contract gives you that flexibility. Need more data? Just switch to the unlimited option for the next month.

However, the real question is what will AT&T charge you if you exceed your 250 MB limit. Will it convert your plan to an unlimited plan or simply charge you per MB, like it does for phone plans? That will have to be seen only after the iPad is released. Until then, it will be fun to know how much data have you used on your iPhone/smartphone. Do you use more than 250 MB? Find out and let me know.

Update #1: Apple reveals how the 250MB plan will work:

You can check your data usage in Settings on your iPad anytime. iPad will even let you know when you’re about to reach your 250MB data limit. You’ll get three alerts — at 20 percent, 10 percent, and zero. With each alert, you can choose to add more data or wait and do it later. Tap Now and iPad opens the Cellular Data Plan window so you can update your data plan.

But what happens if I exceed my limit and do not want to upgrade to the unlimited plan? Will I be charged per GB or will my 3G connection be terminated for the rest of the month? I guess it is the latter otherwise no one will buy the unlimited plan. It reminds me of the time when Internet connection in India was sold by the number of connectivity hours. A typical plan was for 500 hours for a month which I naturally ran through before the month was out.

Update #2: So what happens if I’m nearing my 250MB limit? AT&T clarifies and it sounds fair and reasonable:

The 250MB limited plan adds a few twists. You can track how much data you have used by going to Settings > Cellular Data. However, you’ll get a pop-up notification when you hit 200MB, 225MB, and 250MB. When you hit the 250MB limit, you have a few options. You can either wait until the 30 days has elapsed, at which point you’ll be charged another $14.99 and get another 250MB data allotment. Or you can add another $14.99 immediately, which resets your 30-day timer. Or you can pay $29.99 for 30 days of unlimited access.