What iPad With Cellular REALLY Means

By Tim Chesonis •  Updated: 03/01/20 •  10 min read

A few short years ago, Apple introduced the ability for iPads to connect to the internet via Wi-Fi + Cellular. Since then, people have been asking what an iPad with Wi-Fi + Cellular connectivity can do that a regular iPad can’t do. So, which one should you get, an iPad with cellular connectivity or simply an iPad that connects via Wi-Fi only?

An iPad with Wi-Fi + Cellular connectivity will allow you to access the internet anywhere cellphone reception is found, whereas an iPad without cellular connectivity must rely on Wi-Fi or a HotSpot to access the internet. How you use an iPad will determine which one you should purchase.

We are going to further draw a distinction between an iPad with Wi-Fi connectivity in an iPad with Wi-Fi + Cellular connectivity. Additionally, we will answer several questions that you may have and help you decide if you need an iPad with Cellular connectivity or not.

What Does an iPad with Wi-Fi Only, Mean?

Before we address what an iPad with cellular REALLY means, I want to clarify what an iPad with Wi-Fi only, means.

An iPad with Wi-Fi only, simply means that you can only access the internet via a Wi-Fi network. Yes, you could also access the internet via HotSpot through you cell phone, but more on that later. Just know that an iPad without cellular connectivity limits how you can connect to the internet. In fact, an iPad without cellular connectivity requires third-party hardware to do so, such as a Wi-Fi router, or HotSpot through a cell phone.

What Does an iPad with Cellular Mean?

An iPad with Wi-Fi + Cellular connectivity means that the iPad has built-in hardware that allows for it to use cellular connectivity (like your phone), to access the internet.

In other words, you could leave your cell phone home, drive down the highway, while streaming a movie from Netflix. There are no wires, and there is no need to connect to your iPhone via HotSpot. There are no third-party hardware requirements to connect to the internet.  It just works.

Can I Connect my Wi-Fi Only iPad to my iPhone via HotSpot?

Yes, you absolutely can connect your iPad to your iPhone via HotSpot to access the internet, and that just might be the right choice for you.

Before cellphone carriers offered unlimited data plans, setting up your phone to be used as a HotSpot for use with your iPad would be prohibitively expensive.  Today, unlimited data plans are increasingly becoming the norm. In fact, it is far less expensive to access the internet via HotSpot (provided you have an unlimited data plan), than it is to purchase an iPad with Wi-Fi + Cellular.

There is the convenience factor, however. If you purchase an iPad with Wi-Fi + Cellular, do you have instant access to the Internet. If you simply have a regular iPad, you would need to enable hotspot on your iPhone and manually type in the Hotspot password to gain access. Is it worth the trouble? You will have to decide whether that’s acceptable or not.

How will this affect my Cell Phone Bill?

An iPad with wi-Fi + Cellular requires that you add an additional line to your phone plan. This can range in price depending on your phone carrier.

For example, I have an iPad Pro with Wi-Fi + Cellular. My phone carrier is AT&T, and they charge me an additional $20 per month just so that I can access the internet while not connected to Wi-Fi. Some phone carriers charge $40 a month to add that extra line to your account.

Again, it is important to note that there is a distinction between a cellular iPad and a Wi-Fi only iPad. Your phone carrier does not make that distinction, rather Apple does. They are two separate devices with different hardware components within each. 

Is the Cellular version slower than the Wi-Fi only version?

In the past, Wi-Fi was always faster than cellular signal. That still holds true today, however, that gap is being closed each year and frankly, cellular speeds tend to be fast enough for every day use. 

For example, I can easily use my cellular signal on my iPad to stream movies. Sometimes, in fact, I forget to enable Wi-Fi while in the house when watching movies on my iPad.  Of course, this depends upon your cell phone provider, where you are located, and the streaming speeds that Your cell phone provider allows for.

It still amazes me that I can l drive down the highway while streaming a movie using my iPad (not that I do, but I could, and I have tested to see if, in fact, I could).  That’s how good cellular connectivity has become over the last few years. Phone carriers recognize how users are using their phones and what they want, and fortunately for us, they are increasingly getting better and better.  can you imagine not being able to stream YouTube outside of using Wi-Fi? I know that may sound pathetic, but I use YouTube away from home all the time, and I bet you do too.

Can I Make a Phone Call from an iPad with Cellular Connectivity?

I can see why one might think that they might be able to place a phone call on their iPad with Wi-Fi + Cellular. After all, it does have its own unique phone number just like an iPhone does. However, the hardware components that allow one to place a phone call on your iPhone are not built into the iPad.  So, the answer is no. You are not able to place a phone call from your iPad. 

You can, however, use FaceTime on an iPad.  FaceTime calls will work on all iPads regardless if they have cellular connectivity or not. If it does not have cellular connectivity, you are limited to using Wi-Fi or a hotspot in order to make a FaceTime call, but understand that the only “phone call“ you can make from your iPad is a FaceTime call. 

Can I Use my iPad Without a Phone Carrier?

Yes, you can. There is a common misconception that in order to use an iPad you must have an account with the phone carrier. That only applies if you have an iPad that allows for cellular connectivity and you wish to use that very same iPad to access the Internet when not connected to Wi-Fi or a HotSpot.

To be clear, you can use an iPad and that only allows for Wi-Fi to connect to the Internet so long as you connect via Wi-Fi or hotspot. You do not need an account with any phone carrier in order to accomplish this.

Furthermore, you can also use an iPad with Wi-Fi + Cellular, to access the Internet via Wi-Fi or a hotspot even if you do not have an account with your phone carrier to take advantage of the cellular connectivity for that given iPad. Just understand that the iPad that has Wi-Fi + Cellular, will not be able to take connect to the Internet via cellular connectivity unless you have an account with your phone carrier. Without such an account with your phone carrier, you will only be able to use Wi-Fi (or HotSpot), to access the Internet. 

Will my Phone Carrier Sell Me an iPad Wi-Fi Only?

Phone carriers are in business to make money. As such, your cell phone provider will not sell you an iPad that only allows for Wi-Fi. They will, however, be more than happy to sell you an iPad with Wi-Fi + Cellular, because they make money when you connect to the Internet using their cellular network.  

Remember, when using an iPad with built-in Wi-Fi + Cellular, in order to take advantage of the cellular connectivity, you must add a phone line to your existing account with your phone carrier. That’s where they make their money.

Is Purchasing an iPad Wi-Fi + Cellular Worth it?

Only you can determine that based on your needs, but let me help you.  Ask yourself the following 5 questions:

  1. How often do I find myself needing to access the Internet?  
  2. When the need arises, am I generally in a place where Wi-Fi is available?  
  3. If not, is it worth spending an extra $130 – $150 on an iPad with Cellular capabilities?  
  4. Am I will to spend the extra $20-$40 a month to add an additional phone line to my phone plan?
  5. Could I simply get away with just connecting my iPad to my phone via HotSpot, or is that too much of a hassle? 

It may be difficult to answer these questions on your own because you may approach the subject with a bias. You may already have it in your mind that you need an iPad with built-in Wi-Fi + Cellular.  So, I suggest that you ask a friend or your spouse to help you answer these questions. They may be more objective then you are.

Which one Should I Buy?

And so we are left with the question of which one to purchase. The real underlying question that you need to answer, is where will you be using your iPad?

if you are going to primarily be using your iPad to access the Internet from home, don’t waste your money on purchasing the cellular version. Again, you will be paying about $20 a month For the ability to access the Internet outside of Wi-Fi or HotSpot.

If however, you will be primarily using your iPad away from Wi-Fi connectivity and you do not want to bother with connecting via hotspot, then the Wi-Fi + Cellular version just might be the right fit for you.

One final word of caution.  Don’t fall into the trap into thinking that you have to buy the Wi-Fi + Cellular version of the iPad.  One device is not better than the other. One just connects to the Internet differently and might allow for more flexibility and more convenience when connecting to the Internet.  

Personally, if I had to purchase the iPad all over again, I would not purchase the cellular version, but rather the Wi-Fi only version.  Why?  Because I find that I use my iPad at home about 90% of the time and of the 10% that I don’t use it at home I only use the cellular ability less than 1% of the time. I could easily connect my iPad to my iPhone if I needed to access the Internet.  In fact, having read this article, I think I’ve convinced myself that I can remove the phone line from my iPad and save $20 a month.

But my needs very well may be different from yours, and that’s OK.  If you want to honestly ask the questions that I posed to you earlier in this article, I am confident that you will make the right decision based on your wants and needs. 

Tim Chesonis

Tim has been helping people with computers needs for several years, and he loves to help people succeed. He brings a wealth of wisdom and insight from an entrepreneur's perspective and enjoys freelance writing. In fact, when he's not writing an article, you might find him binge-watching Suits or formatting his computer . . . again, just for fun. To learn more about Tim, click here.