There are countless articles and videos posted describing the overt differences between AT&T’s and Verizon’s approach to offering 3G access on the iPad when away from a WiFi hotspot. This blog post focuses on the difference from the perspective of the customer experience. The price plans for data, which while not identical, are comparable in my opinion and not a big differentiator. Also, the price points for each of the 16, 32, and 64 GB models are the same.
First, AT&T’s 3G capabilities are built into the unit and the payment model is prepaid. That means you only pay for the months that you want to access their 3G network. In months that you do not want 3G access, you pay nothing. There are no consequences for not using it for consecutive months nor are there fees associated with turning it back on after months of non-use.
Next, we have Verizon. They offer iPad internet access through their network via a separate MiFi device (included in the bundled package) which is essentially a mobile hotspot. This separate unit is about half the size of a deck of cards and receives data from Verizon’s network and provides access for up to five computers (one of them is ostensibly your iPad, but it doesn’t have to be). This is a plus for the Verizon approach since AT&T’s 3G access is available only to the iPad with which it is integrated.
The “rub”, as I see it, is that while not bound by a contract with Verizon, you do sign up for a month to month arrangement similar to when your phone comes off contract after the obligatory one or two years. You still pay your bill monthly for the number/service remaining active and in use (even if you don’t use it). You can stop the MiFi sevice whenever you want. But, you will either be charged a suspension fee (barely less than the fee you pay to be active) or if you opt to not pay at all because you anticipate not using the service for a couple months you will incur a reactivation charge when you want to begin the service again. In short, think of it as a no-contract month-to-month phone.
Additionally, with the AT&T model, turning the service on for the months you want it is all controlled by the user right on the iPad. If you do opt to stop Verizon’s service for months of anticipated non-need, and then start it up again, you have to call them on the phone. It basically becomes less hassle to just pay Verizon every month even if you don’t use it. This might come as a surprise to some people contemplating the two options as it did for me.
This is the biggest difference I see between the two approaches. AT&T’s 3G model is a pure pre-pay. Pay for the months you plan to use their network , don’t pay when you don’t. Verizon’s model puts you on a plan that requires you to pay every month whether you use it or not, though you are not locked into a one or two year contract. The up side is that you can use Verizon’s MiFi unit for up to five computers. (Oh, and Verizon’s network does not work in Europe.)
I hope this is helpful for some people in providing a better picture of the “customer experience” between the two options. None of this was found in anything I read in trying to educate myself on the differences before deciding on a purchase. I learned this after actually making purchases of both. (Thank goodness for return policies that aren’t too punishing.)
That all said, this experience has led me to proclaim myself a poster child for Barry Schwartz’s research behind his book The Paradox of Choice. Dr. Schwartz’s thesis argues that too much choice is near toxic for consumers’ psyche and mental health. This topic alone warrants a discussion all its own. If so inclined, CLICK HERE to view Dr. Schwartz’s presentation on TED.
In closing, this entire dilemma completely goes away if you opt for WiFi only model and thus eliminating the need to make a decision on 3G platform. If you’re wondering, I still haven’t decided on which is more appealing to me. But wait, the next generation iPad will yet again have new bells and whistles. Oh, the agony of choice….
Thanks for reading. Have a great day!