iPad and Prepaid 3G in SA

Posted by Minnaar Pieters 15 Jul 2010
OK, so you have a brand spanking new iPad 3G, or at least on the way. But you want to get it on a SA cellular network. Sounds simple enough right? Not so fast – there are a few things you need to take note of.
First off, the iPad ships with a new type of sim card slot, which is made for a newer standard, called Micro SIM. It is essentially just a smaller version of the sim card we currently use in our phones, called Mini SIM. If you compare the two, you will see that the Micro SIM doesnt actually use any new circuitry to make it smaller – it just gets rid of even more of the plastic around its edges. Here is a small illustration if you want to see what I am on about.

MicroSIM vs MiniSIM

Now the good news is that Vodacom and MTN pledged to have Micro SIMs available – the major reason being that iPhone 4 also uses it, and they need to be ready for that potential cash cow once it reaches our shores. In this piece I will focus on Vodacom, seeing as I am comfortable with them (not always happy though), and I know their product range. First off, you can go to any Vodacom SP shop, and jsut order a Micro SIM. I went to one and they had it ready for me within 3 days, for a cost of R50. Not bad.

Of course there is the DIY approach. You can take a SIM Card and cut the sides so that they fit the new Micro SIM slot. While I can see it not being a very hard job, I cannot say I feel to comfortable doing it, seeing as I dont wont to risk the SIM card getting lost inside the iPad – you cannot simply open it after all. But if you feel confident, good for you, just dont blame me.

Another area where the iPad can create some problems is that it doesnt have any type of dial pad, so you are going to need some way to load up data bundles. I know you can get a 3G data contract, but then you are just being a a sucker. Buying data bundles prepaid work out much cheaper, and you have the added benefit of spreading your data costs over 60 days if you plan well enough. So here is the strategy I am using.
  1. Buy any Vodacom prepaid SIM card. They go for next to nothing at most supermarkets. Mine cost a princely sum of R1.
  2. Take the SIM card, with your ID and a proof of residence to any Vodacom shop. You have to go through RICA in order to activate the SIM.
  3. Order a MicroSIM – this will take a few days to arrive. I reckon they will become much faster in future, especially after September when the iPhone 4 is here. Alternatively if you are brave, you can cut the SIM card to fit the iPad.If they have theMicroSIM in stock, hold on, dont activate it yet.
  4. Go to Vodacom’s website, and register for their online services. Just click “Register” at the top of the page. Got through the process, they should send you a SMS to confirm, so….
  5. Put your normal SIM card in any cellphone, type the PIN, and wait for the SMS to come through. Using that password, log into the Vodacom site.
  6. Go to Vodacom, and do the SIM switch to Micro SIM. Put the MicroSIM in the iPad. It might take a few hours to activate.
  7. Load credit onto the number. Trick is to get credit where you dont have to phone out or type in any codes. Remember, you cant phone or SMS or type cellular numbers into the iPad. I use ABSA – you can go on Internet Banking and transfer prepaid credit to any number. You can also do it from their ATMs. Many other banks do this as well, as long as they dont give a voucher with PIN code. You want the credit to be automatically loaded.
  8. Go to Vodacom’s site again, login, and click on bundles. From there, you have a selection of data bundles to choose from. Just a tip – these bundles last for 60 days. The bundles are also cheaper per meg if you buy larger bundles at once. Example – it makes more sense to buy a 600meg bundle every 60 days than a 300 meg bundle every month. My tip is to buy on the first of a month, and then recharge the bundle every 60 days.
  9. On the iPad, go to Settings, General, Network, Cellular Data Network, and then change the APN to: “internet” – without the quotation marks.
And after this exhaustive process you ought to be online. If you want to load more data, just go through steps 7 and 8. Of course you can skip this whole process and get a contract, but thats something I think you are smart enough to avoid. I dont buy data contracts in SA, our prices are still going to fall in the future, and you dont want to be stuck in a 24 month contract. But that just my opinion. You might have a good reason to choose otherwise.

Lets hope Vodacom can also integrate the payment method that other networks are doing overseas once the iPad comes to our shores officially…
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I am a R&D Analyst in Stellenbosch South Africa who has a immense passion for all things tech related. I embrace technology, open source and web standards, and I participate and contribute to the social web.