AT&T Says Its 3G Network Ready For iPad Traffic
Apple (NSDQ:AAPL)’s 3G-equipped iPad models won’t arrive until later this month, but they’re going to add data traffic to an AT&T (NYSE:T) network that’s already causing some customers to tear their hair out in frustration. Nonetheless, AT&T is confident that it will be able to handle the extra traffic from Apple’s shiny new device.
“We’ve factored the iPad into our network technology planning, and we’re ready,” an AT&T spokesperson said in an e-mail. AT&T, which claims to have the fastest 3G network, is reportedly spending between $18 and $19 billion on network upgrades this year, including a doubling of its wireless network investment.
Still, while carriers in other countries are planning to offer subsidized iPads with contract agreements, AT&T is going a different route by letting customers buy 3G service on a month-to-month basis. The iPad will launch with two data plans from AT&T: one with a monthly data cap 250MB a month for $14.99, the other with unlimited data for $29.99.
If AT&T’s network is ready for the iPad, why isn’t it locking customers into 3G service agreements? According to industry experts, AT&T appears to think that iPad users will get the bandwidth they need primarily from Wi-Fi.
Dan Croft, president and CEO of Mission Critical Wireless, a solution provider in Lincolnshire, Ill., says AT&T is betting that subscribers’ actual 3G consumption will be less with the iPad than it is with the iPhone.
“An iPhone is attached to your hip, in constant use even when you’re mobile. I believe a larger device like an iPad will be more session oriented, and that could result in less airtime,” said Croft.
Last month at CTIA Wireless, Ralph de la Vega, president and CEO of AT&T’s wireless and consumer markets, suggested that Wi-Fi and femtocells will play an important role in complementing cellular networks.
Given the increased multimedia capabilities of the iPad, AT&T’s 3G network may be hard-pressed to handle bandwidth intensive tasks like streaming video, especially once iPad-optimized apps start to arrive.
“The iPad is targeted to a different audience, one that’s more used to getting online with Wi-Fi. So AT&T is trying to get people to go to Wi-Fi first,” said Gary Berzack, CTO and COO of eTribeca LLC, a New York City-based wireless solution provider.
Another possibility is that AT&T simply wants to avoid another PR disaster like the one stemming from its angry iPhone subscribers’. AT&T has said all its previous models for predicting network capacity needs were blown away by the iPhone, with the not-so-subtle implication that other carriers will encounter the same issues if they’re granted the rights to sell the iPhone.
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