iPad: No 4G Switcheroo for You!

Anyone expecting to be able to move their new iPad between AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) and Verizon Wireless 4G Long Term Evolution (LTE) networks as they roam the U.S. is going to be sadly disappointed.

The first 4G device ever from Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL) will hit stores Friday morning at 8 a.m. local time. Getting a model that includes the LTE technology puts a $130 premium on the price over the Wi-Fi only models. The LTE models start at $629 and top out at $829 for the 64GB model. Unlike most smartphones, users buy the iPad outright without a contract and can choose to pre-pay for cellular data service each month through iTunes.

What does LTE mean for me?
The LTE technology is designed to allow users to get better-than-DSL download speeds even when not connected to a Wi-Fi network. This will make it easier to stream video and upload photos to Facebook even when you can't get to your favorite coffee joint.

For raw speed, Verizon says that its LTE network, which now covers 203 towns and cities, will deliver 5-to-12-Mbit/s downloads on average to the device. AT&T merely sells its LTE service, which now covers 28 cities, as 10 times faster than 3G. Both devices will revert to 3G when out of 4G coverage. Verizon's CDMA technology in this case, however, is notably slower than AT&T's latest 3G upgrade. Big Red customers can expect around 1Mbit/s downloads on 3G, while Ma Bell speeds in at 3-to-5 Mbit/s in many areas of U.S.

The official word on the LTE lockdown
Verizon says that you won't technically be able to move between the two operators' networks with a SIM even through they both run the 4G technology in the 700MHz frequency. "The answer is no," a Verizon spokeswoman tells Light Reading Mobile.

This also means that you can't roam between the different operators' networks. There are "no roaming agreements in place" anyway, as the Verizon representative notes. This is particularly bad news for AT&T iPad users, since Verizon has a much bigger LTE footprint. (See The Myth of LTE Global Roaming.)

Even if users could technically switch the device between the LTE networks, Verizon doesn't seem to be keen on giving the means to do it. "Our policy is not to sell SIM cards separate from a device," the spokeswoman said in an email reply to questions.

The word on the street
LR Mobile also hit the local AT&T and Verizon stores to ask about the iPad. A Verizon rep reiterated the official line already laid out, adding that the Verizon model uses a different SIM card and antenna. An AT&T representative, meanwhile, offered us an AT&T micro-SIM to use with the new iPad.

AT&T proper, however, didn't reply to press questions on moving the new iPad between LTE networks.

The technical bit
The reason that users can't currently move between AT&T and Verizon's LTE networks is that they have holdings in different parts of the 700MHz band where they are deploying their 4G radio networks. Device makers would need to support two flavors of 700MHz LTE. Or, as Apple appears to have done, choose between the two for different models.

It is technically feasible to build a device that can roam between class 17 -- AT&T's C- and B-band 700MHZ LTE frequencies -- and Verizon's C-Band 700MHz block, known as class 13. "[It] just means that the device has to have two RF front ends for bands 13 and 17," Eran Eshed, co-founder and VP of marketing and business development at LTE chip developer Altair Semiconductor , told LR Mobile when we started digging into this issue in May 2011. (See AT&T Building Islands of LTE in 2011.)

The new iPad uses the MDM9600 baseband chip from Qualcomm Inc. (Nasdaq: QCOM) for its wireless capabilities, according to AnandTech. The part supports LTE along with multiple 3G specs across a number of different frequencies and will likely to be set up largely the same across the different iPad models. (See New iPad Can Be Speedy Without 4G.)

"We'll see the AT&T, Verizon Wireless, and the international model using the same baseband but [shipping] with different modules with different sets of power amplifiers," AnandTech speculates on its blog.

The bottom line
Choosing between the new AT&T or Verizon iPad still appears to be a tricky question for U.S. consumers. If you don't just stick to Wi-Fi, Verizon has more LTE deployed, but AT&T has faster 3G to fall back on.

— Dan Jones, Site Editor, Light Reading Mobile

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sarahthomas1011 12/5/2012 | 5:39:17 PM
re: iPad: No 4G Switcheroo for You!

Verizon has more LTE, but AT&T has more Wi-Fi hotspots, which is another consideration. Although I suppose you'd just get Wi-Fi-only if that were a big deciding factor for you. I'd go with VZW!

joset01 12/5/2012 | 5:39:16 PM
re: iPad: No 4G Switcheroo for You!

It *seems* like it should be possible to just have one iPad to work across all networks. No?


Given that you buy the device outright it seems crazy that Verizon won't sell you a SIM to get on their network. I mean I'm sure you can hunt around the web and find one but as a consumer why should I? It's not a subsidized device after all.

joset01 12/5/2012 | 5:39:15 PM
re: iPad: No 4G Switcheroo for You!

It appears to have been built so that they can't. (Note: I have no confirmation of this from Apple, it's speculation based on the info I laid out in the story.)


But yes. It would seem that Verizon would be the ones that benefit -- from data revenue -- if users could freely switch between LTE networks, since they have so much more LTE deployed.

cnwedit 12/5/2012 | 5:39:15 PM
re: iPad: No 4G Switcheroo for You!

Why wouldn't Verizon want iPad users to be able to try their 4G network? Seems like this is an attractive group of high-end users and selling them a SIM to use Verizon 4G could be a marketing tool for Verizon's service, over AT&T's.

It makes no sense to me.

joanengebretson 12/5/2012 | 5:39:14 PM
re: iPad: No 4G Switcheroo for You!

This revelation about Verizon 700 MHz  iPads not working on AT&T networks & vice versa has come up just a few days before the FCC is expected to begin a rulemaking process on 700 MHz interoperability. The way I read the description of the item on next week's agenda, though, it only seems to address interoperability in the lower 700 MHz band, which includes AT&T and a lot of smaller carriers. Verizon's holdings are in the upper 700 MHz band.

joset01 12/5/2012 | 5:39:14 PM
re: iPad: No 4G Switcheroo for You!

Verizon also appears to be fighting data roaming on 700 band. Open access, kids!

jdbower 12/5/2012 | 5:39:13 PM
re: iPad: No 4G Switcheroo for You!

I think carriers still don't trust their 4G coverage to be enough, it's not a 4G tablet it's a 3G+4G (+WiFi) tablet.  This means that Apple already needs two models, one with a CDMA radio and one with a GSM radio, makes sense then that they wouldn't build the LTE module so it can switch between the different frequencies.

What's interesting is the heavy 4G branding will end up hurting Apple and/or carriers outside the US, Telstra in Australia for example has been hounding Apple to remove 4G references and has had to educate its employees and customers that 4G will not work on any network outside the US.

pogo 12/5/2012 | 5:39:13 PM
re: iPad: No 4G Switcheroo for You!

"It would seem that Verizon would be the ones that benefit -- from data revenue -- if users could freely switch between LTE networks, since they have so much more LTE deployed."

Maybe Verizon is thinking longer term, to a time when AT&T has made more headway on their LTE network.  VZ wants to lock customers in to a long-term decision now while VZ has the LTE coverage advantage. iPad users who are forced to choose today will probably choose Verizon (assuming they are aware of Verizon's superior coverage). If they had the ability to change their mind without penalty, customers might choose AT&T in greater numbers. Maybe Verizon sees this as an opportunity to gain the upper hand with Apple customers and they want to lock in the advantage. VZ will have an even greater advantage when the iPhone5 (with LTE) is released later this year.

joset01 12/5/2012 | 5:39:12 PM
re: iPad: No 4G Switcheroo for You!

Yes. I could see that being a reason. I don't think its unreasonable to ask if the end user should have a bit more say in  this though.

After all, you're not getting the iPad on a contract from the carrier, you're buying it outright. Its a bit like buying a car from Ford and then they turn round and say you can't drive on certain roads. Seems to me that Apple could have easily have supported both 700MHz blocks and given users of their device the choice.

jdbower 12/5/2012 | 5:39:12 PM
re: iPad: No 4G Switcheroo for You!

No argument here, I'd be fine with an unlocked LTE-only device that just had a bunch of global radios in it - cut out the GSM and CDMA stuff.  I wonder if there's a single chip that could be used to cover both VZW and AT&T bands or if the radios are so tight today it would need two of them.  That would drive the COGS of the LTE model up even higher.

Then again, if it doesn't fit in my pocket IMO it doesn't need to be always connected, I'd probably consider a WiFi only device and a mobile hotspot before any tablet with a carrier contract.  But I also have a laptop, Kindle, and a few small tablets that would be able to share this connection (and contract) depending on what I've got with me.

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