You can connect an iPad to the Internet through one of two ways: Wi-Fi and 3G. All iPad models support Wi-Fi connections, but only Wi-Fi plus 3G models support 3G connectivity. All hardware for these connections is built into the iPads and cannot be changed or upgraded. The software for setting up your connections is also included with the iPad, so you can connect to the Internet as soon as your iPad is set up and a connection is available.
Your iPad can connect to any available wireless network through the Wi-Fi connection. You will need to enter a password for password-protected networks, just as you would on a computer. If you currently use an Ethernet connection for Internet access at home or your office, you may need to install a wireless router to convert your Internet signal into Wi-Fi. Contact your Internet service provider to find out about compatible wireless routers and if you will need to make any changes to your service. Wireless service requires a broadband connection, so if you use dial-up, you will need to upgrade your service.
The term 3G refers to a type of cellular network used by cellular phones to transmit data wirelessly. If you have a Wi-Fi plus 3G iPad, you will need to set up an account for your 3G service through the appropriate carrier, such as AT&T or Verizon. You can do this directly through your iPad's settings app. The 3G service requires paying the service provider, but the iPad's 3G service does not require a long-term contract, unlike many cellular phone services. Choose how to regulate your iPad's 3G service in the settings when you sign up for 3G. Cellular data connections are slower than Wi-Fi, so while the 3G is good for an Internet connection in areas not covered by wireless networks, you will likely need both types of connections set up on your iPad.
Manage your iPad's Internet connections from the "Settings" app that came preinstalled on the device. Tap the app icon, then tap "Wi-Fi" to configure your wireless networks. Tap "Cellular data" to configure your 3G connection. You do not need to be connected to a Wi-Fi network to set up your cellular data connection, as long as you are in an area covered by the appropriate cellular service.
If you purchase a Wi-Fi only iPad and realize later you want 3G, you will need a new iPad, as this cannot be upgraded. However, you can get around this need if you have a cellular phone that can act as a Wi-Fi hotspot. You will need to pay any applicable data fees to your phone service provider if you use the mobile hotspot for your iPad. In this case, connect your iPad to the network as if it were a Wi-Fi rather than 3G connection.
Some public networks use Flash-based sign-in pages to access their free Wi-Fi services. The iPad does not support Flash programming, so while the iPad's hardware can connect to such networks, you may not get Internet access because the software will not work on the iPad to allow you to sign in.