More on the iPad and AT&T's Mobile Share plans

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As a longtime AT&T cellular customer, I was intrigued when the company announced its Mobile Share shared data plans this year. With two iPhones and a 4G iPad in our house, having access to a pool of data and unlimited texting (especially with the somewhat frequent iMessage outages these days) sounded pretty good.

Getting iPhones onto a Mobile Share plan is easy. But as editorial director Jason Snell found out, adding an iPad is a bit trickier. Part of that difficulty involves the way you may be enjoying cellular data on your iPad today, and the other part is the poorly trained (or perhaps strictly coached) AT&T customer service representatives.

First off, Apple makes it easy to sign up for month-to-month data plans directly from your iPad. In doing so, however, you’re setting up a new prepaid plan completely unrelated to any other AT&T plan you may have for other devices (a Family Plan for multiple iPhones, say).

As the Director of AT&T Corporate Communications, Emily J. Edmonds, told me in an email:

“If you are adding a new device to a Mobile Share plan, or if you’re adding a postpaid data plan to your device for the first time, a one-time $36 activation fee will apply. If you are switching or upgrading from another postpaid data plan to Mobile Share, there is no activation fee.”

So whether you’ve had no data plan on your iPad, or if you’ve been paying $15, $30, or $50 a month for cellular data via the Cellular Data setting (aka prepaid), AT&T will still charge you a fee to move that iPad over to a Mobile Share (aka postpaid) plan. These tiers are exactly the same prices as what AT&T charges on its website, by the way.

AT&T's Mobile Share options look nice, but iPad owners have to jump through extra hoops to enjoy them.

The other issue relates to how you make the switch. In talking to AT&T customer service, Jason was told he’d need a new SIM card to switch to Mobile Share, either by visiting an AT&T retail store or waiting for one to come in the mail. A follow up question to AT&T corporate returned a terse, “AT&T iPad owners do not have to get a new SIM to join Mobile Share.” When I asked AT&T customer service, I was told both that I’d need a new SIM and that I’d have to pay for it. (To “save me money,” customer service suggested I just avoid adding my iPad and tether it to my iPhone whenever I wanted access to cellular data.)

So which is it? A little from column A, a little from column B. Edmonds put it to me this way:

“If you move from a tiered data plan to a Mobile Share plan you don’t need a new SIM. But if you move from prepaid to postpaid, you can’t use the same SIM on postpaid for 60 days. However, it is possible to cancel your prepaid service and then transfer your SIM to Mobile Share (postpaid), but you’d lose your remaining prepaid data for that month.”

To translate, if you’ve been using Apple’s method of iPad data, you can either get a new SIM, or cancel your current plan and use the same SIM you already have (although customer service never offered me the latter as an option).

The bottom line is, even with some better clarification, it’s still much more complicated than it should be to meld iPad and Mobile Share, customer service needs to be better trained, and it’s just silly that AT&T would penalize customers with active data plans with an additional fee because of how they’re paying for it.

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