O2 vs Orange vs Vodafone - the battle of the iPad data plans

This morning, thanks to Apple's online pre-order forms, Pocket-lint revealed O2 and Vodafone's iPad data plans, pre-empting any official announcements. And, as Orange's plans had already been unveiled last Friday, that wrapped up the expected tariffs.

However, while the prices were leaked, many details remained secret... Until now.

We have now received official confirmation from all parties, and they had a fair few surprises up their sleeves.

But bells and whistles aside, which is the best data plan for you? Which micro-SIM should you pre-order along with the 3G + Wi-Fi iPad of choice? And importantly, who's giving the best swag to draw you in?

O2

What's the cost?

O2 has three different price plans, one chargeable daily on an ad-hoc basis, two recurring monthly. The daily charge of £2 can be initiated digitally through the iPad itself, and gives 24 hours use and a maximum of 500MB for downloads during that time.

The monthly plans are £10 per month for 1GB and £15 per month for 3GB. All plans can be topped up with extra data limits.

What about the micro-SIM?

The micro-SIM, when ordered through O2 itself is completely free from O2 stores or online. Alternatively, it costs 20p when pre-ordered with the iPad itself.

Is there more?

Oh yes. O2 offers free unlimited Wi-Fi access at any Cloud or BT Openzone hotspot nationwide on all of its plans, including the daily one. What's more, there is no download limit via this service.

Anything else I need to know?

Your download limit will not rollover. If you don't use it up in a month, you'll lose any left over at the start of the next.

What makes O2's data plans better than the others?

Pocket-lint exclusively talked to an O2 spokesperson to find out exactly that: "We believe our tariffs are better value and offer greater simplicity. [They all] include unlimited access to thousands of public Wi-Fi hotspots. We are also unique in offering customers the ability to manage their tariffs (check usage, top up, etc) through the iPad itself making it as quick and easy as possible for customers to buy data access on the move".

So, who's O2 aiming its plans at?

We think that O2's plans are best suited to the small business user or casual web user who would rather convenience over capacity, and is on a tight budget.

Orange

What's the cost?

Orange has no less than five separate tariffs for iPad data, offering PAYG, daily, weekly and monthly options.

Its "pay for what you use" plan costs 5p for every MB downloaded, capped at £40 a month. This also comes into practice if you exceed the limits on the other bundles.

The daily plan costs £2 for 200MB (less data limit than O2's similarly-priced alternative), while Orange is the only one of the providers to offer a weekly scheme, £7.50 for 1GB.

Two monthly plans cost £15 per month and £25 per month, for 3GB and 10GB limits respectively.

What about the micro-SIM?

Like O2, Orange offers the micro-SIM for free, when ordered via one of its price plans in store or online.

Is there more?

Absolutely. On its website, Orange is currently offering £10 free credit to offset with any of the subscriptions. Also, it complies with the provider's Orange Wednesdays incentive, which allows you to get 2-for-1 cinema tickets every Wednesday as long as you subscribe.

Like O2, Orange also throws in free Wi-Fi hotspot access, however, it is only with BT Openzone locations and strictly for monthly subscribers only.

Anything else I need to know?

Also, like O2, your download limit will not rollover. And a 750MB fair usage policy applies (presumably on a daily basis for the monthly plans). Always read the small print.

What makes Orange's data plans better than the others?

We'll hand that over to an Orange spokesperson: " With our iPad pricing plans, we want to offer as much flexibility to our consumers as possible, so they have the freedom to choose their plan depending on their usage.  Our ‘pay for what you use’ price plan for the iPad is unique to Orange, and charges for data access at a rate of 5p per MB of usage each month and will cost no more than £40 per month (excluding the optional bundles). In addition, consumers can also choose from four money-saving bundles for more planned or frequent usage".

So, who's Orange aiming its plans at?

Clearly Orange has the widest range of plans available, and, with its PAYG option, is happy to cater for the very occasional traveller. Its hotspot coverage isn't quite as extensive as O2's, but is still welcome. And, the added incentive of Orange Wednesdays suggests that the younger, mid-twenties iPad owner is more likely to sign up.

Vodafone

What's the cost?

Vodafone is keeping things as simple as humanly possible, with just two monthly data plans on offer.

The basic package is £10 per month for 1GB, while £25 per month allows you to download up to 5GB. That's it.

What about the micro-SIM?

Like the others, Vodafone is offering the micro-SIM for free when you sign up to one of its packages. It's 20p on pre-order from the online Apple store.

Is there more?

Not really. It's pretty basic stuff. However, Vodafone does offer data roaming charges from £9.99 a day for those wanting to use their iPad's 3G capabilities abroad.

Anything else I need to know?

You can cancel your subscription anytime you like (within 30-day periods) as there's no fixed-term contract.

What makes Vodafone's data plans better than the others?

"Our 3G price plans for iPad with Wi-Fi + 3G offer customers great value on the UK’s best network”, says Guy Laurence, CEO, Vodafone UK. “We’re giving customers the power to make the most of iPad when they want, whether they’re on the move, at home or abroad".

So, who's Vodafone aiming its plans at?

There's only really one stand-out feature of Vodafone's announcement, and that's its data roaming plans. It seems the company is relying on its massive network to win through, and it strikes us that its plans are essentially for business users.

The verdict:

Essentially, there's no out and out winner, and each plan offers something quite unique. It really depends on what you want to use your iPad for. Our tip is to take one of the daily plans, check how much you use the 3G capabilities and tailor to suit. After all, with no fixed-term contracts, you can chop or change as you see fit until you find the plan for you.