There are four different networks providing plans for the iPad 3g in the UK, and all of them offer either pay-as-you-go or rolling contracts. What’s more, they all offer SIM packs for free, and at least some of them give you some initial credit with your free SIM, so it’s worth giving them all a try.

When I went looking for data plans a month ago (a few weeks before the UK release) Orange seemed to be the only company taking pre-orders for SIMs, so I requested one. They offer a £10 free credit 5p/MB a la carte service, a £2 for one day or 200MB (whichever comes first) plan, and a £7.50 for a week or 1GB plan (in addition to their £15/3GB and £25/10GB monthly plans), so there didn’t seem to be any harm in trying. Went through the online order (which required bank details and such for future charges) and waited.

The SIM arrived the week after the iPad release (which would have been more than a little disappointing if 3G had been my only way to get online). It came with a pack saying that I needed to phone a number to activate it. I called and they confirmed the SIM number but had lost all of the information I put into the web site so we needed to go through it again. Ten minutes (and £1.50: my mobile company had been charging for the phone call) later the SIM was activated.

Then I tried to figure out how to choose my plan and check my balance. I went to the Orange web site recommended by the pamphlet that came with the iPad SIM pack, and it asked me to set up an Orange username and password. I did, and then the system said that it would send me a text I needed to confirm. The iPad can’t receive texts. The only way to set up a username is to call yet another number targeted at people who can’t read text messages. I called the number, and a pleasant recorded voice told me that they were experiencing exceptionally high call volumes and that unless my call was urgent I should probably try another time.

Orange’s iPad pamphlet also includes a recommendation to download their app from the App Store. It turns out it’s an iPhone app and not an iPad app, but I got it anyway. It demands your username and password, but includes a button to say that you don’t have a username. If you hit that button, you are told to visit the Orange web site using your desktop computer. Sigh.

Verdict: even if Orange had the best prices (which they don’t), they have absolutely no idea how to manage a data-only plan. One down, three to go.