What’s commonly called a “tablet plan” is better described as a “data-only plan.” These plans provide a wireless internet connection via cell network to any capable device, including tablets and wireless hot spots. There aren’t too many data-only offerings available, but we’ve rounded up the best below.
Price is the primary factor in comparing tablet plans. However, if you’re outside a major metropolitan area, you may want a carrier with more widespread high-speed network coverage, like Verizon or AT&T. Also, if you already have a tablet, make sure it’s compatible with the network you’re bringing it to.
Postpaid tablet plans
|1GB or less||$15 (250MB)|
|2GB-3GB||$30 (2GB)||$30 (3GB)|
|4GB-5GB||$40 (4GB)||$50 (5GB)|
*Verizon's price includes the $10 per month device access fee for tablets.
T-Mobile offers a postpaid data-only service only through its unlimited data plan, T-Mobile One. That means you’ll have to sign up for cell phone service through T-Mobile One at $75 per month, and then add a data-only plan for your tablet at $20 per month.
Sprint does something similar, offering unlimited data on your tablet for an extra $30 per month, if you already have a Sprint cell phone plan. If you want just unlimited tablet data without another Sprint plan, the price jumps to $80 per month.
Under both T-Mobile’s and Sprint’s schemes, streaming video quality is restricted to standard definition. Sprint also allows 10GB of mobile hot spot data through your tablet.
Prepaid tablet plans
Data expires after one month unless otherwise marked.
|Verizon Prepaid||AT&T GoPhone||T-Mobile Prepaid||Straight Talk|
|1GB or less||$15 (500MB)†|
|2GB-3GB||$35 (2GB)*||$25 (2GB)||$10 (2GB)||$25 (2GB)|
|4GB-5GB||$60 (5GB)*||$50 (5GB)||$40 (4GB)*
|6GB-7GB||$25 (6GB)||$75 (7GB)*|
|10GB-11GB||$100 (10GB)*||$40 (10GB)|
†Data available for only one week.
Pay-as-you-go tablet plans
If you’re not a heavy data user but still want the convenience of using your device where Wi-Fi isn’t available, these pay-as-you-go plans make the most sense. Both Charge and Project Fi charge a flat rate for their data, while Ting charges based on tiers of usage. At low levels of 2 gigabytes or less, these plans can be more cost-effective than traditional offerings.
Charge’s data-only plan costs $3 per month. You can then use data at $13 per gigabyte. The cost of the data you use each month is subtracted from a prepaid account. Make sure your tablet is Sprint-compatible, since Charge operates on Sprint’s network. Most new tablets should be compatible.
Ting charges its customers for voice, text and data in separate tiers. That means if you want to use Ting as a data-only plan, you just treat it like one. The tiers are listed in detail here, but for a rough idea, 1GB is $16, 2GB is $20, and then every gigabyte after that is $10 each.
Google’s wireless service offers a free cellular data-only SIM card — so no talking or texting — and data downloads at $10 per gigabyte. However, this data-only option might not make sense unless you’re already on Project Fi. You can get a data-only SIM card only if you sign up for a regular Project Fi cell phone plan, which is $20 per month, plus data costs.
Stephen Layton is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Updated June 26, 2017.