The question they won’t answer: is Apple getting an iPad data kickback?

Mobile phone networks have refused to disclose whether Apple is taking a slice of their expensive iPad data tariffs.

The question they won't answer: is Apple getting an iPad data kickback?

Three of Britain’s mobile networks – O2, Orange and Vodafone – announced 3G iPad data plans earlier this week. The deals have a lot in common, with the best-value packages working out at £5 per gigabyte per month: for instance, Orange and O2 charge £15 for 3GB and Vodafone charges £25 for 5GB of data.

Unlike with the iPhone, none of the mobile networks are offering a discount on the iPad hardware itself. For the same £25-per-month price, some iPhone tariffs include “unlimited” data, discounts on the handset and free calls. The only factor in the iPad customers’ favour is that they’re committed to rolling monthly deals instead of 18- or 24-month contracts.

We expect to see very limited take-up of the Wi-Fi/3G version compared to Wi-Fi only

When asked by PC Pro whether Apple was taking a slice of the data income – as it did with the iPhone – all three networks refused to comment, citing corporate confidentiality. Apple hadn’t returned our request for comment at the time of publication.

Apple iPad buyers have little choice but to take one of the three networks’ deals if they want 3G access on their tablet. Apple has adopted the new Micro SIM format for the iPad, which means users are unable to use their existing SIM/data package. (At least, not without chopping up their existing SIM card and forcing it into the slot – a procedure that reportedly works, although breaks the networks’ terms and conditions, according to O2.)

Industry expert say the £100 premium applied to the 3G versions of the iPad, coupled with the data fees, will put off many buyers. “It’s a very expensive 3G product,” said Geoff Blaber, head of mobile device software research at analysts CCS Insight. “We expect to see very limited take-up of the Wi-Fi/3G version compared to Wi-Fi only.”

Blaber said the networks had priced the data plans cautiously because of the sharp upswing in mobile data usage that was triggered by the iPhone. “The networks have a difficult balancing act,” he said. “It’s a new form factor, and they’re not sure how customers are going to use it.

“There’s a concern these [iPads] could be particularly heavy on the networks. The iPad could be even more bandwidth intensive [than the iPhone], particularly if people are downloading books,” he added.

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