iPad: No 4G Switcheroo for You!
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