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Prepaid Tablet Data Plans Compared

There are some good deals available on data for tablets like the iPad and the Google Nexus 7. The major carriers have priced their tablet data plans significantly lower than comparable mobile broadband or phone data plans.

The best deal is from T-Mobile, which will give tablet users 200 MB of data per month for free just for activating a T-Mobile SIM in a device that T-Mobile recognizes as a tablet.

Verizon is another good choice. Its lowest priced LTE mobile broadband plan is $15 for 300 MB, and it's only a 7 day plan. For $5 more you can get a full gigabyte of data, good for a month, for a tablet. And Verizon allows you to use your tablet as a mobile hotspot. However, you do need to use a Verizon tablet, prices start at $199.99 for a reconditioned Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 LTE.

Here's a table comparing Verizon. AT&T and Sprint's prepaid tablet plans. Except for the 200 MB of free data deal, T-Mobile doesn't have separate tablet plans so I've included their prepaid mobile broadband plans, which can be used with tablets.


Verizon AT&Ticon MetroPCS Sprint T-Mobile
Free - - - 200 MB
$5 300 MB (1 day plan) - 500 MB (1 day plan, no auto-renew)
$10 - - 100 MB 1 GB (7 day plan, no auto-renew) or 1 GB (auto-renew required)
$15 - 250 MB  1 GB 1 1 GB -
$20 1 GB - - 3 GB (auto-renew required)
$25 - -  3 GB 1 - -
$30 2 GB 3 GB - 5 GB (auto-renew required) or 3 GB (no auto renew)
$35 -  -  5 GB 1 3 GB -
$40 4 GB - - 4 GB (no auto renew)
$50 6 GB 5 GB 6 GB 7 GB (auto-renew required)
$60 - - - 9 GB (auto-renew required)
$70 - - - 11 GB (auto-renew required)
$80 10 GB - 12 GB 13 GB (auto-renew required)
Allowed Devices Verizon Tablets iPads, AT&T Tablets MetroPCS Tablet Sprint Tablets T-Mobile Tablets and Mobile Broadband Devices
Tethering Yes Only on 5 GB Plan  $5/mo No Yes
1 1, 3 or 5 GB or high-speed data, unlimited throttled (128 Kbps) data, $5/mo discount when combined with a MetroPCS phone plan.

These tablet plans all have their own set of rules, and in some cases, gotchas. Here's a run down of the details of each carrier's offering.

Verizon: A credit or debit card is required to activate any of Verizon's prepaid tablet plans. It's best to activate the prepaid plan using the menus on the tablet (On the iPad Tap Settings > Cellular Data > View Account and fill in the form). Users activating in store or over the phone have reported being activated on a postpaid plan in spite of being told they were getting the prepaid option.

Plans automatically renew one day before they expire. You can cancel your auto payment and resume it again anytime within the next 5 months (after 5 months without an active plan your SIM is deactivated and must be replaced to reactive service). The process for cancelling auto-payments on the Verizon iPad (and probably the Android tablets) is confusing, if you are not careful you can end up permanently deactivating your SIM. To safely cancel your auto payment on an iPad:
  • Tap Settings > Cellular Data > View Account, log in if prompted.
  • On the next screen (labeled "Account Overview") tap "Add Data or Change Plan".
  • On the next screen (labeled "Add Data or Change Plan") tap "Cancel Plan".
  • A dialog box will open, choose "Delete Account Later." Do NOT choose "Delete Account Now" as that will kill your SIM.
If your SIM becomes deactivated through user error or because it was inactive for over 5 months it's almost impossible to get a replacement from Verizon without signing up for a postpaid account. Fortunately, Verizon LTE SIMs are readily available on eBay for around seven dollars.

AT&T: It's not easy to find the prepaid tablet plans on the AT&T site. To get to them go to www.att.com/att/planner and select  "Tablet" under "Device 1". Then in the bottom left of the page click "See other options" under "DataConnect Pass".

To set up an AT&T prepaid plan on an iPad go  Settings > Cellular Data > View Account or online at http://www.att.com/ipadlanding using the iPad's browser. For other tablets go to https://buyasession.att.com. A credit or debit card is required.

AT&T's plans auto renew every month and auto renewal can be can be activated and deactivated as needed. If you suspend your service for more than 60 days your account is cancelled and the SIM is permanently deactivated.  Unlike with Verizon, SIMs are readily available from AT&T stores as well as online from Ebay and Amazon. A special SIM is not required, any never activated AT&T SIM can be used.

Sprint: Prepaid tablet plans are only available for Sprint 4G LTE tablets. You can activate a prepaid plan on the iPad by tapping Settings > Cellular Data > View Account and filling in the form. A valid credit or debit card is required and the plan will renew automatically every month. As with Verizon and AT&T, you can change to a different plan or suspend auto payments using the Settings > Cellular Data > View Account  menu. As far as I know Sprint doesn't permanently deactivate your SIM or account because a plan has been inactive too long.

Sprint prepaid iPad plans include a limited amount of off-network roaming (100 MB on the 1 and 3 GB plans, 300 MB on the 6 GB and 12 GB plans).

T-Mobile: doesn't have tablet specific plans. The mobile broadband plans listed above are the only prepaid plans that work with T-Mobile branded tablets, iPads, Google Nexus tablets and other devices that are recognized by T-Mobile as tablets.  Auto refill is available, but not mandatory, for T-Mobile prepaid mobile broadband plans.  You can let service lapse if not needed and reactivate it again up to one year after last use. After a year without service the SIM becomes permanently deactivated and can no longer be used.

Non-T-Mobile tablets can't easily be activated on prepaid Mobile Broadband plans  but do work with T-Mobile phone plans, including the $30/month, 100 minutes, unlimited text, unlimited data (first 5 GB at full speed)  plan which is a better deal than any of the mobile broadband plans.

MetroPCS, which is wholly owned by T-Mobile, has tablet plans but they only work with the MetroPCS ALCATEL ONETOUCH POP 7 not with other tablets. MetroPCS customers receive a $5 monthly instant discount on tablet plans when they add the POP 7 to their existing MetroPCS phone service.

Updated Oct 24, 2014: Added MetroPCS.

77 comments:

Comment Page :
  1. Your useful info is always appreciated.
    There's a few corrections, though:

    1.AT&T's ipad prepaid plan permits tethering, but only for $50/5GB iPad LTE plan (activated with iPad 3 or 4, but not with iPad 1 or 2).

    2.T-Mobile's prepaid Mobile Broadband plan can be activated only by the use of T-Mobile-branded tablet or portable wifi devices. That is, the activation screen is reacheable only if one uses a T-mobile-branded tablet/wifi routers. So, it's not "Any Tablet or Mobile Broadband Device". It's "T-Mobile Tablet or Mobile Broadband Device only".

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. re. #2: According to Tmobile direct sales dept, you can just buy their 99c micro-sim for the iPad and activate it on line (or call customer service). No need to buy a Tmobile broadband device.

      Delete
    2. I meant to say "99c micro-sim activation kit that works with the iPad..."

      Delete
    3. Actually, I was goint to add that part but didn't. We're talking about mobile broadband plans. So, I didn't think cellphone plans are relevalent here.

      Yes, "T-Mobile (Micro) SIM Card Activation kit" ($0.99 or $1.99 depending on promotions) works with iPads, with T-Mobile Monthly4G No Annual Contract (prepaid) cellphone plans.

      But, "T-Mobile Mobile Broadband SIM ONLY KIT" ($6.99) can not be activated without T-Mobile-branded mobile data devices.

      And, "T-Mobile (Micro) SIM Card Activation kit" ($0.99 or $1.99) can not be used with T-Mobile-branded mobile data devices.

      "T-Mobile (Micro) SIM Card Activation kit" and "T-Mobile Mobile Broadband SIM ONLY KIT" have different SKUs and possibly different IMSI codes.

      I've tried all three combinations.

      Delete
    4. small addition/clarification:

      And, "T-Mobile (Micro) SIM Card Activation kit" ($0.99 or $1.99) can not be used with T-Mobile-branded mobile data devices, and can not be activated for T-Mobile prepaid broadband plans. It is for Monthly4G No Annual Contract cellphone plans only, which you can use for any unlocked mobile data devices except T-Mobile-branded mobile data davices.

      Delete
    5. The Tmobile micro-sim activation kit can be used in an iPad with Tmobile prepaid broadband plans, according to Tmobile direct sales dept.

      I.E., a "Prepaid Tablet Data Plan."

      Delete
    6. The Anonymous comment above this one is by me: Alex.

      Delete
    7. >The Tmobile micro-sim activation kit can be used in an iPad with Tmobile prepaid broadband plans, according to Tmobile direct sales dept.

      That is contracdictory to my own exdperiences.


      Anyway, how can I delete/edit comments here?

      Delete
    8. That is the great thing about this blog; we learn new things every day. ;-)

      Delete
    9. Another difference between "T-Mobile (Micro) SIM Card Activation kit" and "T-Mobile Mobile Broadband SIM ONLY KIT" is:

      "T-Mobile (Micro) SIM Card Activation kit" comes with a separate Activation Code, with which you need to activate the SIM.

      "T-Mobile Mobile Broadband SIM ONLY KIT" is just a SIM, no activation code. The SKU of this SIM has the form of ZZZ###RPP1. (### could be any number)

      Delete
    10. Thanks for all your contributions. T-Mobile's policies regarding tablets seem even more arbitrary, confused and undocumented than typical with mobile operators. It looks like:
      1. T-Mobile branded tablets require a mobile broadband plan.
      2. iPads reportedly can be activated on a phone plan, and the $30/month, unlimited data plan is a better deal (5 GB of full speed data) than any of the broadband plans.
      3. The Google Nexus 7, which isn't really a T-Mobile product although Google will sell you one with a T-Mobile SIM, requires a mobile broadband plan and doesn't work with phone plans.
      4. Most other non-T-Mobile tablets can probably be used only with phone plans.

      Delete
    11. I had planned to use the $15/7 day/300mb and the $25/30 day/1.5gb passes in my iPad, but maybe I will try to activate a micro sim on the $3, up to 200mb/day phone plan instead. That would give me 1.4gb over 7 days.
      Maybe I will activate two sims and cover both options.

      Delete
    12. Alex, here is how to activate an iPad on the Tmobile Prepaid Mobile Broadband Plan:

      http://www.prepaidphonenews.com/2011/06/prepaid-mobile-broadband-plans-compared.html

      Delete
    13. One more correction: The "Free" 200MB/ month for T-Mobile only applies to T-Mobile tablets purchased AFTER a certain date. My Google Nexus tablet from T-Mobile was purchased when T-Mobile sold unlocked tablets, but they will not honor the 200MB/month for those machines. Must be that it costs them too much to give away 200MB/month to a few thousand users?

      Delete
    14. In response to the June 24, 2014 entry:

      I purchased a Nexus 7 LTE (2013) at Best Buy the beginning of Sept, 2014. I took it to a T-Mobile corporate store on Oct 1, 2014 where I paid $10 for a SIM card and they activated it for the Free for Life 200MB per month data. Worked great after I left the store.

      Delete
  2. Tmobile note:
    If you do not use your prepaid broadband sim for a year, Tmobile will deactivate your account.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I just visited the Verizon Wireless website, and they sell iPad with 4gb LTE plan for $30. I specified no contract; this is month-month.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Looks like they add a $10/month tablet line access to the $30.

      Delete
  4. So...can you buy a T-Mobile 4G laptop stick and use the $30 monthly T-Mobile/Walmart "unlimited" phone data plan for both a smart-phone and a laptop? I have a dream of using my Iphone 3GS and my laptop on the same plan... and dumping my AT&T DSL plan(and land-line) and my Consumer Cellular phone plan and paying only %30 a month...even if they throttle data after 5 gigs it can't be much slower than basic DSL...could this really be possible?
    thanks in advance...Wayne

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The answer to this question should be "No", though I have not used a USB modem for T-Mobile. But, I have used a T-Mobile Galaxy Tab and two models of T-Mobile Sonic mobile WiFi's.

      Based on my experiences with T-Mobile Galaxy Tab android tablet and T-Mobile WiFi's, T-Mobile's mobile "data-only" devices do not work with T-Mobile's prepaid phone SIM. I mean, the phone SIM is recognized by the device, and it will try to connect to the cell signal. But, you can only access the T-mobile account management site or something like that. No other sites, so it is useless.

      Now, Can you use the T-Mobile mobile broadband SIM with any unlocked or T-Mobile phone (after activating the SIM with, say in this case, the T-Mobile USB stick)? I don't know, and I haven't tried it.

      Delete
    2. The answer is yes, you can use your iPhone 3GS and your laptop on the same plan. You do not need a Tmobile hotspot:

      1. Get your iPhone unlocked by AT&T.
      2. Activate the $30 unlimited data (5GB un-throttled) phone plan with a new SIM you buy online or at Walmart.
      3. Use your iPhone (or a 3G Tmobile phone) as a mobile hotspot to provide WiFi to your laptop.

      Tmobile has 100k PoPs re-farmed to provide 3G data on 1900 MHz channel now. They say they will have 170k by mid year, and 200k by the end of the year. That may be enough for you to live your dream.

      Delete
    3. Correction:
      Mobile Hotspot on an unlocked 3GS is provided via Bluetooth or USB.

      Delete
    4. Correction 2:
      Tmobile has 100m PoPs covered by re-farmed 1900 MHz, not 100k.
      170m expected by mid-year.
      200m projected by the end of the year.

      Delete
  5. From the Tru phone website FAQ:

    Does Tru work on Apple products (iPhone and iPad)?

    Yes.
    Tru works on all unlocked handsets, including the iPhone.

    We also have a specific business offering for iPad users, offering data for just 2p/MB in all Tru countries."

    Tru countries: UK, USA, Australia

    ReplyDelete
  6. can you update this post, it's very old and doesn't include activation charge

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The post is updated when plans or pricing changes.

      I just double checked and the available plans and pricing for AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile are still as indicated in the post.

      I can't find Sprint's no contract iPad plans on their site. The only way to see them is apparently from the Settings > Cellular Data > View Account menu on the iPad. But I haven't heard of any pricing changes with Sprint's plans.

      There are no activation fees with any of the four operator's prepaid tablet plans although T-Mobile charges $10 for a SIM. AT&T doesn't seem to have a set price for a SIM but they are available on Amazon and eBay for less than $5.

      If you have specific information about any errors in the post please share them here.

      Delete
    2. Hi, thank you so much for your post, very helpful. I had a unlocked tablet (GSM radio), and want to use AT&T prepaid data plan occasionally. Could you please elaborate what is its expiration policy, I can not find it myself. Say, if I only buy one month data, and stop refill my account; then I could reactivate whenever I need, or there is a certain length of time, like one year, I have to refill my account, otherwise, my account will be canceled. Also, as for the SIM card, what kind I should buy, are they called 3G/4G data SIM card. Thanks

      Delete
    3. Hi, Thanks for your post, very helpful. So, if I used AT&T prepaid data plan, there is no expiration at all. I could just buy one month data and use it, and reactivate whenever I want, no matter how long I don't refill my account. Thanks

      Delete
    4. The article was incorrect with regard to AT&T data plans.

      With the AT&T prepaid data plans, 60 days after service is suspended the account is closed and the SIM is invalidated. To restart the service you need a new SIM. To activate or reactivate you can use any never-activated AT&T SIM.

      Delete
  7. What sorts of taxes are added on to these plans? I assume there will be state and local sales tax, but I'm guessing there aren't the usual phone taxes on top.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. As far as I know, all four operators only charge applicable sales tax. All other taxes and fees are include in the base plan prices.

      Delete
  8. My experience. ...Go with Simple Mobile.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Why? Simple doesn't have any tablet or broadband plans. T-Mobile's $40 tablet plan has 4.5 GB, Simple's $40 phone plan has 1GB.

      Delete
  9. AT&T DataConnect "Pass"-prepaid has added a $5.00/1 Day 250MB(no auto renew) & a $25.00/3-Month 1GB(no auto renew) plans

    ReplyDelete
  10. att .com web site Shop /wireless / under plans and services click "help me choose a data plan" click device as Tablet scroll down to DATACONNECT PASS on the bottom right, click "see other options"there are all the updated PREPAID plans for tablets.Adjust data usage Horizontal Bar if necessary to locate.

    ReplyDelete
  11. http://att.com/att/planner/ "DataConnect Pass" is prepaid "DataConnect" is postpaid

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, I've updated the post to include the one day and three month plans.

      Delete
  12. the T-Mobile $1.00 10 MB (1 Hour Plan) is NO MORE.Also the $30.00 2.5 GB is available as a ON DEMAND PASS (30-day without Auto Renew) and as MONTHLY PASS (30-day with Auto Renew).

    ReplyDelete
  13. New Verizon Prepaid tablet Plan of $40.00-4 GB & the $50.00 Plan DATA allotment INCREASED to 6 GB from 5 GB.

    ReplyDelete
  14. need update sprint tablet plans the $15.00 plan is now 1 GB there also are TWO new "Limited time only" Plans that are available they are $5.00 25 MB & $10.00 MB. I suspect these LTO plans will probably be around for a while.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Per the Sprint site: "Offer ends 2/20/2014" on the $5 and $10 plans

      Delete
    2. Thanks for the heads up on all the plan changes. I've updated the post with the current plans except for the Sprint limited offers which end in four days.

      Delete
  15. Sprint Tablet $10.00 100MB Limited Time Offer

    ReplyDelete
  16. The T-Mobile Pay In Advance Mobile Internet Plans have been updated.Starting with the $20.00 going all the way up to the $80.00 plan, all have been given another 500MB of Data.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for letting me know, I've updated the post.

      Delete
  17. In the above table, the AT&T $15/month plan is for 250 MB, not 250 GB.
    Must be a typo. Otherwise, excellent work. Your web site is a real gem.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I've corrected that, thanks for catching it.

      Delete
  18. T-Mobile offers LTE-Enabled Tablets for same cost as Wi-Fi Tablets.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. A postpaid activation on a 1GB ($20/month + 6 -28% taxes and fees) mobile internet plan is required to get the reduced price tablet. It's not to me clear if you can cancel the postpaid plan and keep the tablet without paying an ETF.

      The tablets on the T-Mobile prepaid site still have their old high prices.

      Delete
  19. Hello I want to be pay as you go but i use about 150GB per month and cant seem to find anyone that can handle that amount...any ideas.

    ReplyDelete
  20. I have been given the runaround about the 200MB T mobile data. All the stores insist that I need to be a paid customer of T mobile for eligibility. Is this true?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. If the store salespeople aren't cooperating, you can buy the SIM online for a penny with free shipping put it in a supported tablet and go to to mim.t-mobile.com with the tablet's browser to activate the free plan.

      Delete
  21. How many free data accounts can one open per account? I am hoping to have data on my tablet as well as my laptop.

    ReplyDelete
  22. On a Verizon branded no-contract LTE tablet with a SIM card can I use AT&T or T-Mobile SIMs for LTE?
    I know CDMA and GSM phones and networks don't work with each other. But I have no clue about LTE tablets.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That depends on the bands the tablet supports. AT&T uses LTE bands 4 and 17, T-Mobile uses band 4. If the tablet has the required bands, it should work.

      Delete
    2. Which bands does Verizon use?

      Delete
    3. LTE band 13 mainly but they are starting to use band 4 in some markets.

      Delete
  23. Does any carrier sell their no-contract tablets locked?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Except for Verizon, most carrier branded Android tablets are locked. I don't know if iPads sold by carriers are locked or not

      Delete
    2. Verizon tablets are unlocked?

      Delete
    3. Our AT&T iPad was sold unlocked and works fine with a T-Mobile SIM.

      Delete
    4. I think all iPads are sold unlocked, but you cannot just use any model with any carrier. This article does a good job of explaining some of the issues:
      http://www.everymac.com/systems/apple/ipad/ipad-faq/ipad-design-info-font-where-to-buy-unlocked.html

      Delete
    5. "Verizon tablets are unlocked?" Most, Verizon LTE devices, including all recent ones are unlocked. It's an FCC imposed condition of Verizon's license to LTE band 13. aka the "700MHz C Block".

      Delete
  24. Will carriers that sell their tablets locked ever unlock them?

    ReplyDelete
  25. Hi! Thank you for a very informational site. I'll be making a roadtrip from Seattle to Boston in July with a few friends of mine, and have been trying to find a good data-only plan allowing tethering for my iPad. I'd like to use the AT&T network, but have been stumbling upon disappointments after disappointments when reading comments and experiences online. If everything else seems promising, at least getting a SIM seems to be really, really hard. At least buying anything before actually flying to the States seems to be out of the question.

    Now there's some hope thanks to this article, so let me get this straight: I can now, without any problems, walk into an official AT&T store in Seattle and tell them that I need a tablet-only prepaid plan for my iPad for a month, get the 5 GB plan and be on my way? They'll have the needed SIM card in-store, and I'll be able to put it in my iPad and use tethering so that I can connect using my mobile phone via the iPad hotspot as well? Can this be true? :-)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. AT&T used to require a US based credit card to activate a tablet plan. That's no longer the case, see AT&T Launches GoPhone Tablet Plans for more information.

      Delete
    2. Ok, thanks for the swift answer! I looked into GoPhone before, but had the impression that getting a SIM from an AT&T store was hard for international visitors and their site store lists zero availability for GoPhone SIMs for Store pickup even in the NYC, so I knew I couldn't buy one online before I go, but was unsure if I'd be able to buy one from there. You reckon I'll be able to buy a GoPhone tablet plan from an AT&T store?

      Also I find it curious that they list iPad 3 and iPad Mini as compatible, but not iPad 4. I guess that's just lazy on their part and there's no reason it wouldn't work on an iPad 4.

      Delete
    3. Just as an info to others. Chatted with an AT&T representative today. According to him, GoPhone is readily available from all AT&T stores, Walmarts and Targets, even if it lists as "Out of Stock" for store pickup (this is due to it only being sold online, he said, which makes little sense to me).

      I also asked about a newer iPad. He said that "unfortunately, it does not work". When asking for a reason, he said that it's outside his area of expertise, but that he has handled customers before saying that it's not compatible. Right, so adding connectivity options makes a tablet incompatible? Now I'm just wondering whether to bring my iPad 4 with me to the AT&T store and try my luck, or just not bring it and ask for a SIM etc. to activate myself. We'll see.

      Delete
  26. Apple's new iPad Apple SIM cards will change the way carriers market prepaid data. You can change carriers as often as you want, without changing the SIM. For example, T-Mobile is planning to offer a new, limited promotion that costs $10 and gives you 10GB to use over 5 months. Verizon has not agreed to support the Apple SIM - yet.
    http://www.fiercewireless.com/story/att-sprint-and-t-mobile-support-new-apple-sim-card-lets-customers-choose-ca/2014-10-16

    ReplyDelete
  27. Correction: T-Mobile will offer 5GB of data over 5 months for $10 on the limited time offer.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That would great great deal if it were true but I don't see that plan listed on T-Mobile's prepaid plans page. Please share a link to where you saw this plan.

      You might be thinking of a T-Mobile promotion that doubles your data (up to 5 GB/month) for one year when you add a tablet to a postpaid plan for $10/month.

      The plans on this page are stand-alone prepaid plans not postpaid add-on plans.

      Delete
    2. Stay tuned: "T-Mobile, which has been aggressively going after phone customers by eliminating contracts and paying early termination fees, is planning to use the opening to go after tablet customers as well. The company plans a limited time offer of 5 gigabytes of data that can be used over five months for $10."

      http://www.foxbusiness.com/technology/2014/10/17/new-ipad-lets-users-swap-data-plans-1515128326/?intcmp=fbtopstories

      Delete
    3. I'll be watching for T-Mobile to announce that plan.

      Delete
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