If there's one feature on the next iPad AT&T Inc. is crossing its fingers for, you can bet it's Long Term Evolution (LTE) 4G Connectivity.
That's because the carrier has already been successful in selling data plans for the 3G version of the Apple Inc. tablet, according to Glenn Lurie, AT&T's head of emerging devices. And, most consumers are setting their monthly, prepaid data plans to automatic renewal, providing AT&T with an extra revenue stream of at least $15 per month, he said.
The carrier didn't break out its iPad sales for its last quarter, but said it sold 571,000 branded computing devices, which includes connected tablets and air cards. AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson also noted that tablets drove its prepaid adds of 717,000 for the fourth quarter. (See AT&T Banks on Broadband, Cries for Spectrum.)
"The future [of tablets] is all connected," Lurie said in a MWC interview, where he dispelled the notion that most tablets sold today are Wi-Fi only. (See Trends for 2012: Connected Devices and Apple: the Numbers Behind the (Huge) Numbers.)
"The Wi-Fi only tablet is a half device," Lurie continued. "People thought they'd use it every once in a while, but it's turned into all the time."
An LTE iPad ahead?
Lurie admitted that these network-connected tablets are eating up a lot of data, but said he's not worried about the traffic as most future tablets will be connected to its data-centric LTE network.
For the user, a 4G LTE iPad would likely be much faster than the current 3G iPad 2. The current 3G iPad tops out at average data rates of around 1.5-Mbit/s. In a recent drive test of AT&T's new LTE network average, Signals Research found downlink speeds of 23.6Mbit/s and a peak data rate of 61.1Mbit/s. (See AT&T Hits 15 LTE Markets, Adds Another Tablet.)
AT&T launched its LTE network in the second half of September 2011. So users will only get the 4G LTE coverage in 28 markets at present if an LTE iPad is on the horizon. AT&T, however, has upgraded its high-speed packet access-plus (HSPA+) 3G network -- now marketed as 4G -- in the meantime, so users could get something like 5Mbit/s averages on download as a fallback. (See Mapping LTE: AT&T & Verizon's 4G Footprints.)
Whether or not the iPad will be amongst those 4G tablets, however, is the question de jour. Apple has an event scheduled tomorrow where it could announce its next version of the tablet. The rumor mill is in full swing, with many suggesting LTE will be amongst the included features, and an equal number saying Apple will pass on the new network. (See LTE iPad Coming to Japan? and LTE iPad Coming Soon? )
AT&T is not betting solely on the iPad, however. (OK, well mostly.) It currently has one other LTE tablet, the Pantech Co. Ltd. Element tablet that Lurie said is selling well. AT&T has a great relationship with Android OEMs and Google, Lurie added, and is running a promotion for tablets bundled with smartphones. The judicious M2M chief said he's also excited about Microsoft Corp.'s Windows 8 tablets and believes Research In Motion Ltd. (RIM) is still a "great partner" and player in tablets.
â€” Sarah Reedy, Senior Reporter, Light Reading Mobile