Hi Dominic, I'm planning to buy a new iPad and I want be able to use the internet while out and about in London. Can you please explain the difference between a 3G and Wi-Fi only iPad? Which type of iPad do I need - is 3G better than Wi-Fi? Will I be able to connect to my Sky home broadband with either? And how do I access free Wi-Fi hotspots? Thanks in advance.
Richard Taylor, via email
Our expert Dominic says...
Thank you for your question. Apple's iPad tablet is useful in all kinds of ways, but to really make the most of it you'll need a reliable broadband connection. But, as you point out, there's a choice of either a 3G or Wi-Fi-only iPad, so how do you decide which is for you?
Aside from the price variation - the 3G version costs around £100 extra - the main difference is the type of connection each device uses. The cheaper, Wi-Fi-only iPad is unable to access a mobile broadband network and is limited to "local area" wireless instead.
Regardless of whether you choose 3
G or Wi-Fi, connecting your iPad to the internet couldn't be simpler. However, to be sure you're making the right decision, you need to think about how and where you'll be using your iPad - and how much you've got to spend.
While both allow you to connect to a Wi-Fi hotspot - either wireless broadband at home or a public access network - only the 3G model gives you internet access wherever there's a strong enough 3G mobile phone signal, meaning you can be connected more of the time.
As a Sky broadband (www.Sky.com) customer, you may be eligible for free, unlimited access to Wi-Fi hotspots across the UK. And, since you live in London, where there's more free Wi-Fi than anywhere else in Britain, you might decide you simply don't need a 3G connection.
The following guide will look at your iPad options in more detail, helping you choose between the cheaper Wi-Fi-only model and the "always connected" 3G iPad.
What's the difference between 3G and Wi-Fi?
With Apple's 3G iPad you can connect to the internet using mobile broadband that's "always on" provided you have strong enough mobile reception. It uses the same wireless technology as smartphones, so you should be able to access the web virtually anywhere you go with your 3G iPad.
The more basic Wi-Fi-only iPad can only use a local area network (LAN) to access the internet. This can either be provided by your own wireless broadband at home, or a service delivered from access points - or "hotspots" - in public places such as cafes, hotels and airports.
Some Wi-Fi hotspots are free for anyone to use, but many require you to pay. As a Sky broadband customer, you get free, unlimited access to all Wi-Fi hotspots provided by The Cloud, while lots of BT broadband (www.BT.com) customers use BT (www.BT.com) Openzone hotspots free of charge.
Which iPad should I choose?
When you're choosing which iPad to buy, the two things to consider are storage size and connectivity. The more gigabytes of space your iPad has, the more stuff you can keep on it. Similarly, the better your connectivity, the more freedom you'll have when it comes to getting online.
If you opt for the cheaper Wi-Fi-only iPad, you will only be able to access the internet when there's a wireless broadband signal nearby. With the more expensive 3G + Wi-Fi version, you'll have the extra flexibility of mobile broadband that's accessible almost anywhere you go.
But which is the best option for you?
3G + Wi-Fi iPad
If you want iPad internet access 24/7 just as you would on your smartphone, then a 3G + Wi-Fi model gives you the most flexibility. For as little as £2 a month you can get a mobile broadband plan from a 3G provider like Vodafone (www.Vodafone.co.uk), Orange (www.Orange.co.uk), Three or O2 (www.O2.co.uk).
Simply insert a micro-sim card from your chosen provider and your iPad will be able to access their 3G wireless network for web browsing and downloads. But remember, you need to be careful with how much data you use. Exceeding your download limit could result in extra costs.
An added bonus with the 3G iPad is that it also has a built-in network adapter for Wi-Fi access. If you have wireless broadband at home, you can connect with your iPad and save your 3G data allowance for when you're out and about. But again, this sometimes has a usage limit of its own.
The iPad with 3G + Wi-Fi connectivity is around £100 more expensive to buy from Apple. However, with a mobile broadband contract you can spread the cost over a couple of years.
The Wi-Fi-only iPad is ideal for anyone planning to keep their iPad at home, rather than carrying it around with them. With fast broadband and a wireless router at home, you can connect the device and access the internet just as you would on a laptop or PC.
As well as Sky, providers such as BT, Virgin Media and Orange give customers everything they need to set-up a wireless network at home. But without a 3G connection as well, you may find it is harder to get online when you're out and about with your iPad.
It's less of a problem for people living in built-up urban areas, like you, Richard, with plenty of access to free Wi-Fi hotspots. Outside cities - particularly in smaller towns and rural parts - where hotspots are more spread out, a 3G connection may prove more useful.
Use the Broadbandchoices.co.uk price calculator to compare iPad deals online.
Can I connect my iPad to the wireless at home?
If you have a broadband connection and a wireless router - provided by most broadband companies at no extra cost - you can almost certainly connect your iPad whenever you're at home. In fact, once you've set it up the first time, your iPad will automatically connect whenever it's within range.
This is possible with either version of the iPad tablet, so even if you have the 3G version you can save your mobile broadband - and 3G data allowance - for when Wi-Fi is unavailable, but if the broadband package has a set download limit, be careful not to exceed it or you could face extra charges.
Read our guide to unlimited broadband for more information.
How do I access free Wi-Fi hotspots?
As a Sky broadband customer, you may be eligible for free, unlimited access to 10,000 hotspots provided by UK operator The Cloud. These can be found at popular places such as Pizza Express, Wagamama and Pret A Manger outlets, in locations across the UK.
Users simply register with their Sky details then download a free Sky Cloud Wi-Fi app to access the service. It is available to all Sky customers with Broadband Unlimited, Sky Connect or Fibre Unlimited packages, but it's not only Sky customers who can benefit from free Wi-Fi.
BT broadband customers also get free, unlimited Wi-Fi access. More than 3.5 million BT Openzone hotspots can be found in the UK and around the world - in places like cafes, airports and hotels.
Before you sign-up to a contract, you should use an Ofcom-approved price comparison service, such as Broadbandchoices.co.uk, to find the best value deal. Whether its mobile or home broadband, you can save money by taking the time to compare your options.