The new iPad is Apple’s first mobile device compatible with the so-called fourth-generation
LTE networks. The introduction of this new feature means more for the future of Apple and
the wireless industry than it does for the iPad itself.
The most immediate impact of an LTE iPad will be seen in the United States,
where AT&T and Verizon Wireless are building out 4G LTE networks,which are faster than
their predecessors, in their race to win subscribers. For now, Verizon is in the lead with
the largest number of LTE –for Long Term Evolution — networks deployed throughout the country,
and the new iPad’s LTE compatibility should give Verizon leverage against AT&T in marketing
its superior network coverage, said Jan Dawson, a telecommunications analyst at Ovum.
Conversely, LTE on the iPad spells out potential problems for Sprint Nextel.
The smaller carrier, like Verizon and AT&T, sells the iPhone, and an LTE-compatible iPad almost
certainly means that the next iPhone will support LTE as well. Sprint, however, hasn’t built an
LTE network yet, and given the time it takes to deploy new cellular technologies,
the carrier is at risk of falling further behind its competitors.
T-Mobile recently announced plans to build LTE networks that will be available by 2013,
but the carrier hasn’t made a deal with Apple to sell the iPhone or the iPad.
T-Mobile’s impending LTE release puts the company in a better position to sell future Apple products,
and the carrier had better hope it can make a deal soon — it has been shedding many subscribers,
in part because of its lack of an iPhone.
As for Apple, the complicated issue with LTE is that the network technology is available on
different spectrum bands on networks around the world. That means to offer the iPad on more
LTE networks worldwide, it will have to manufacture multiple models to be compatible with
each different band — a splintering effect that the company has been trying to avoid with
iPads and iPhones.
“Does Apple say we’re supporting U.S. LTE for now and risk alienating potential customers
outside the U.S.?” Mr. Dawson of Ovum asked. “Or does it say we have to make multiple different
units in different parts of the world, which goes against the way they’ve been working recently
of creating a single device?”
As for the iPad itself, LTE may not mean all that much. According to research by the NPD Group,
most tablet owners use their devices on Wi-Fi networks, and most consumers intending to buy a
tablet plan to buy one that does not have cellular capabilities. However, some Android tablets,
like the Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.7, include LTE compatibility, and the inclusion of this feature
gives consumers one more reason to not buy an Android tablet, said Mr. Dawson.
And presuming that the next iPhone will have LTE, that’s another reason to not buy an Android phone
with LTE as well, he added.