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Spend More To Save More - Rethinking iPad For Enterprise Users

The launch details of Apple's iPad tablet were just recently revealed, with the WiFi-only version of the device going on sale April 3rd and is open to pre-orders on March 12th. While the gadget geeks will certainly be standing by with credit cards at the ready, I believe that waiting a bit longer for the 3G model, and paying a bit more, is the way to go for most enterprise road warriors.

The iPad will come in two flavors, a WiFi-only model and a second model that will ship with both Wi-Fi and a wireless radio to connect to AT&T's 3G wireless network.  What is compelling about the 3G radio itself is AT&T's plans to support it. Unlike the iPhone or other smartphones in the carrier's stable, wireless access for the tablet will be on a no-contract rate: $15/month will get you 250MB of wireless data, while $30 bumps that to unlimited data for the same timeframe.  Either plan also includes free access to AT&T's WiFi hotspot network. Because AT&T is not forcing you into an extended contract, you can switch 3G service on and off as you need it, paying only for the months when you use it.

For example, let's look at my last trip to Interop in Las Vegas. I needed to stay connected throughout my trip, so I purchased an $8 day pass at the airport each way during a long layover. When I got to my hotel, I paid the $13/day rate for Internet access in my room.  Add in taxes and I spent nearly $100 for a week's worth of connectivity.  If I had an iPad instead of my laptop, I probably could have gotten by with the $15/month plan and had an extra $85 in my pocket, or in the case of an enterprise user, $85 that isn't going on their expense report.  In terms of ROI, the $130 upcharge for the 3G model is paid for by the second business trip

Of course, all of this relies on AT&T's 3G network, which has not had the most stellar track record, particularly in high-density events like trade shows.  But with a compelling, low-risk 3G wireless offering, it makes sense to keep the connectivity options open for the device.  Plus, waiting a few weeks beyond the iPad's launch day gives you that much more time to decide if the new tablet fits with your idea of enterprise mobility.