iPad Wi-Fi vs Cellular: Do I Need 4G On iPad Or Just Wifi Only?

iPad Wi-fi vs Cellular - Do I Need a 4G Card

Have you have just bought, or are thinking about buying an iPad? One of the things you are likely taking into consideration is whether or not you need to buy a data plan to get the most out of your new product.

There is certainly no easy answer to this question and there are loads of factors to take into consideration when making a choice. We look at some of the reasons why you might, or might not, get a data plan...

What’s The Difference Between A Wi-Fi And A Cellular iPad?

Sorry, We Need To Get This Out Of The Way First!

Well, as you have probably guessed, the main difference is that a Wi-Fi only iPad can only connect to the internet with Wi-Fi (well, there is Bluetooth as well of course), and a "Wi-Fi with Cellular" iPad has the option to insert a SIM card so that you can use 4G data as you would any other SIM card, like on your phone.

Ok, that's the obvious basic difference out of the way, so now let's break down the pros and cons of either option and some cool workarounds for the wifi only option...


The biggest difference is the convenience you get from having a data plan with your iPad. If you choose to buy a data plan you will be able to use all of the online features that the iPad has to offer anywhere you can get a data signal (which is anywhere you get a signal with your phone - well, with that phone network at least).

It means you won’t have to rely on finding wifi when you want to surf the internet or check the latest sports scores and, essentially, it will give you a complete iPad experience.

Having said that, you may still be limited in what you can do depending on the data plan you choose. For example, if you want to stream movies or download large apps, that can take up a huge amount of data. As such, doing those things on a regular basis will require a plan that offers you a large amount of data. If you don’t end up with enough data, you may find yourself relying on wifi for these features anyway.

How much cost - ipad wifi vs cellular

The downside to all that data is, of course, the price. Firstly, simply buying a model with cellular capabilities will cost you a little extra. As well as this, you will have to pay a monthly fee to a network for your data. These aren’t particularly cheap, with companies charging around $50 for 5GB of data (as of Mar '17).

If you are already paying for a phone data service as well as your internet, things can quickly add up. As such it is really worth taking into consideration whether or not you actually need a data plan with your iPad.

Do I Need An iPad With Cellular?

This really depends on where and how you plan to use your iPad, as well as what your other options for accessing the internet with your iPad are.


When thinking about where you use your iPad, you need to consider if you'll have easy access to wifi. If you will mainly be using it at home and you already have wifi on your home network, then really, you don’t need an iPad with cellular.

Likewise, if you plan to use it at the office, or in coffee shops (with wifi), you may find it easy enough to get by without a plan. However, if you want to use your iPad while on the bus, or have internet access wherever you go, then you should certainly think about the cellular option.


Of course, you may want to use your iPad anywhere, but not actually need internet access. Watching movies that you have already downloaded, listening to music, reading ebooks and many apps can be used without an internet connection.

If you mainly plan to use this type of app then realistically you probably don’t need a data plan. Simply make sure that anything you need is downloaded (or uploaded) onto your iPad before you leave your network.

If however, you think you will mainly be surfing the internet, or using apps that require an internet connection, then you will need a cellular plan.

Any Options Without A Data Card? Yes!

Tether An iPad To A Phone

Tethering is a great way to get data on your iPad on the go, especially if you are already paying for data with that phone. Many networks will allow you to use the data you get on your smartphone (iPhone or Android) plan on your iPad. You will do this by using your phone as a wifi hotspot and connecting your phone to it.

Even if you do not currently have the ability to tether on your contract, you may find that it is cost effective to add that option to your current plan instead of buying a separate data plan for an iPad.

Of course, as with all data plans, it is important to check the finer points of your contract. Some contracts will limit the amount of data you can use and if you go beyond that you will either not be able to go continue using data, or you may be charged for the extra data you use.

Some phone SIM cards do not allow tethering at all, and will not work.

Make sure you confirm this with your phone service provider first, if you intend to go down this route.

Video On Tethering iPad To iPhone
Use A Mobile Hotspot

Having a mobile hotspot allows you to connect devices to a wifi hotspot wherever you are. You simply buy a data plan and then connect devices to it via wifi. These devices can then access the internet as they would on any other connection. Some of these hotspots have a SIM slot built into them, others let you plug a SIM USB dongle into the hotspot, so you can share the data to multiple devices.

While the price may be similar to the price you would pay for an iPad data plan, it differs in that you could use it to connect other devices to. For example, smartphones and laptop computers could all benefit from the wifi provided by a USB dongle.

iPad Wi-Fi vs Cellular: Rounding Up...

In conclusion, whether or not you need a specific data plan for your iPad really just depends on how you plan to use it.

Having a dedicated data plan means that you will always be able to use pretty much all the features of your iPad (assuming you have enough data) and you aren’t constrained by constantly having to find a wifi hotspot.

On the other hand, an iPad is a really useful device even if you aren’t constantly attached to the internet. You will still be able to use downloaded content and many different apps even if you aren’t currently connected to the internet. You will simply have to do a little more planning and be aware of when you will and won't have an internet connection.

Having said that, tethering to a phone is a 'best of both worlds' option many of you could consider...? 

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iPad Air 2 MH2P2LLA - ipad wifi vs cellular
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One Comment - Write a Comment

  1. I have a data share plan where I can have up to 10 devices sharing my data IE when my son and girlfriend come over they can connect etc but I want an iPad without the added cost of having another SIM card added to my account via my provider, can I connect an iPad to share my data without a SIM card and would a wifi only work or does it need to be cellular too ?


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