First things first, not all iPads can use cellular data. Ever since the very first generation of the iPad, there has always been two versions: WiFi only, and WiFi+cellular iPads.
An iPad with cellular data capability simply means the iPad has a cellular SIM (subscriber identification module) card—whether embedded or with a SIM tray—to connect to the cellular network, just like your iPhone or smartphones.
Why Do You Need a Data Plan on Your iPad?
The main benefit is fairly obvious: you can always connect to the internet even when there’s no WiFi available. The downside? The WiFi+cellullar iPad is around $130 more expensive than a WiFi-only iPad. On top of that, you’d need to pay the monthly fee of the data plan.
However, there is a key question to answer here: most of us already have a data plan on our smartphone (or the iPhone), and nowadays we can easily tether the internet connection from our smartphone to the iPad or vice versa. On the iPhone, we can simply turn on Personal HotSpot for this feature.
In such cases, do we still need a data plan on the iPad? There are two key issues you might want to consider:
- Tethering the internet connection (i.e. via the iPhone’s Personal Hotspot) will cause the phone to run hot, and the tethered connection is always a major battery drain
- The WiFi-only iPad utilizes WiFi trilateration instead of GPS triangulation to pinpoint the location of the iPad. It is less accurate than a cellular iPad with its dedicated A-GPS chip. An important implication of this is that if you lose your WiFi-only iPad and it’s not currently connected to a WiFi, you can’t use the Find My iPad feature.
So, there are some key advantages of the WiFi+cellular iPad compared to the WiFi-only counterpart. The key question is whether based on your needs, these advantages justify the price difference and the monthly fee of the data plan.
How To Buy Data Plan on An iPad
First, there are now three different options for SIM cards in an iPad: a traditional SIM tray, Apple SIM, or eSIM.
The Apple SIM is technically Apple-manufactured eSIM (embedded SIM), where the SIM card is integrated within the iPad. You can still get plans from third-party carriers, and if your iPad is unlocked, you can switch between carriers without changing the physical SIM.
The latest 2020 model, however, features an eSIM and an empty nano-SIM tray. The eSIM functions just like an embedded Apple SIM and you can use any kind of data plan that supports eSIM, like Truphone’s iPad data plan without using a physical SIM card.
Setting Up Data Plan On iPads With Traditional SIM Cards
If you have an older WiFi+celullar iPad with a SIM card tray, then you’d need to purchase a SIM card from your carrier (or Apple SIM from Apple Retail Stores).
You might be familiar with the process, simply open the nano SIM-card tray with the included ejector, and insert the physical SIM card from your carrier (or the Apple SIM).
If you use a physical SIM card from your carrier, then you can simply go to the Settings app, then Cellular Data, and toggle on (green) on Cellular Data.
If you are getting an Apple SIM instead, you can check below.
Setting Up Data Pplan On iPads With eSIM And Apple SIM
If you are using an Apple SIM or eSIM, then you’d need to set up a plan with a carrier that supports Apple SIM, like Truphone. You can also check here for a full list of the participating carriers all around the world.
You can set up and buy the data plan by following these steps:
- Go to Settings, Cellular Data, then Set Up Cellular Data. If you’ve already got a working plan and wanted to add a new one, then you should go to ‘Add a New Plan’
- Choose a carrier of your choice, choose a plan, and create an account. Or, you can simply add your iPad to an existing plan.
- Hit Confirm, and you are good to go.
Some carriers might also provide a QR code whether on their website, email or physical package. In such cases, you can simply:
- Go to Settings, then Cellular Data.
- Tap on ‘Add Cellular Plan’
- Use your iPad to scan the QR code, and follow the steps on the screen. You might be asked to enter a confirmation code/PIN provided by the carrier.
Use A Carrier-Specific App
Some carriers might also have their own App that you can use to manage your data plan. In this case, simply go to the App Store and download your carrier’s app. Follow the steps provided in the App to purchase the data plan.
As you can see, setting up and buying a data plan for your cellular iPad is fairly simple. Before anything else, however, you might want to check which iPad model you have to check whether you’d need to purchase a physical SIM card or a physical Apple SIM.
Newer cellular data iPads feature integrated Apple SIM or eSIM, which allows us to switch between different carriers without swapping out the SIM card. This is useful if you like to travel abroad, so you don’t have to switch to different prepaid cards when you move between countries.