Surprise: 3G-enabled iPad unlimited AT&T data plan is truly unlimited

AT&T made a surprising revelation. When it comes to the $30 per month unlimited data plan for the upcoming 3G/WiFi version of the Apple iPad, there will be no typical 5GB cap on data usage.

AT&T spokesman Mark Siegel told Gearlog that "unlimited is unlimited," paving the way for heavy usage of all of those bandwidth-intensive applications such as the free Netflix application that enables subscribers to instantly view full-length movies and TV shows that are popping up on the device.

This past weekend, the WiFi-only version of the iPad came to market. Later this month, the 3G/WiFi version will go on sale for $130 more than the WiFi-only device and users will pay for connectivity--either $15 per month for 250 MB or that $30 per month for unlimited usage. For its part, AT&T has indicated it doesn't expect iPad users to overwhelm its network because it believes iPad users will rely predominately on WiFi.

"We will monitor the usage as the device gets out there," Rick Lindner, senior executive vice president and CFO at AT&T, said recently. "If it turns out substantially different, we will adapt."

Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. analyst Craig Moffett said, AT&T's assumption that users will be connected to WiFi most of the time is "a pretty big stretch given it's a new device nobody's used before." In short, we just don't know what the usage pattern will be. Interestingly, smartphone web usage is typically truly unlimited while laptop usage is capped. Maybe AT&T's confidence comes from the effort is has been putting into its hotspot business to ensure WiFi-enabled devices automatically choose AT&T affiliated WiFi over 3G whenever both are present. Moreover, WiFi connectivity is prevalent in the home and office.

However, if I were to buy an iPad (I'm not sure I will), I would rather wait for the 3G-enabled one. Paying an extra $130 for the device and $30 per month whenever I feel like it (since the plans are prepaid) for unlimited data sounds like a good deal to me.--Lynnette