Should You Choose Verizon or AT&T for Your iPad's Data?

In pretty interesting news today, Verizon Wireless has announced that it will begin selling the Apple iPad later this month. But you can't use it through Verizon's 3g coverage -- the iPad doesn't have the right hardware for that. Instead, the Verizon is offering a competitive plan through its MiFi 3g mobile hotspot. Here's what to consider when trying to choose between Verizon and AT&T for iPad data.

The Networks

Of course, not all data networks are created equal. Most Verizon-philes and many Apple fanboys who grudgingly use AT&T agree that Verizon's network is better. But it's really hard to be sure, since we've never lived in a world where Apple devices can utilize either network simultaneously. If Verizon gets the iPhone in March, which has been widely speculated, then that should provide the company's network with a lot more traffic, which might slow it down. But since most people I've spoken with have had better luck with Verizon than AT&T, I'd say:

Slight Advantage: Verizon

The Pricing

It's hard to sort through which carrier has a better deal, because they're different. AT&T offers the following options:

250 megabytes per month: $14.99
2 gigabytes per month: $25.00 ($10 for each additional gigabyte)

But Verizon offers:

1 gigabyte per month: $20.00
3 gigabytes per month: $35.00
5 gigabytes per month: $50.00 ($10 for each additional gigabyte)

And it's even more complicated than that. These are the data plans if you specifically buy an iPad from Verizon through its special MiFi bundle pricing. If you buy a MiFi hotspot separately, then the pricing is completely different:

250 megabytes per month: $39.99
5 gigabytes per month: $59.99

So it's a better deal to get the MiFi in an iPad bundle. But if you'll only be a casual 3g user, then it might pay to use AT&T, which offers the cheaper 250 megabyte plan. And for a moderate user, AT&T's 2 gigabyte plan is probably the best deal for $25. Very heavy data users get slightly cheaper pricing through Verizon here though. So this one entirely depends on how much you'll use the iPad through a mobile network. But since 1 gigabyte might not be enough for heavy users and too much for light users, I'll have to say that in most cases:

Slight Advantage: AT&T

The Access

To make the decision even more difficult, you access these networks differently. AT&T's network can connect to the iPad directly through its internal hardware, while Verizon requires its MiFi hotspot to connect to its network through the iPad's internal WiFi antenna.

So if you don't want to deal with carrying around a separate MiFi hotspot, then AT&T is the better option. But if you like the idea of getting a MiFi hotspot, which you can also connect to with your laptop or other WiFi enabled devices, then Verizon gives you an extra bonus. Since this is entirely a matter of preference, this is:

A Draw

So What's The Better Choice? It Depends.

Ultimately, deciding between these two service providers is going to have to be made on a case-by-case basis. If you hate AT&T, are a very heavy data user, and would love a mobile hotspot to connect to with your laptop as well, then Verizon is the obvious choice. But if you think AT&T's network has served you well, are a light to moderate data user (less than 2gb per month), and won't need or want to bother with a mobile hotspot, then you should choose AT&T. If you're somewhere in-between, well, then you've got a lot to consider.