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Monday, March 12, 2012

iPad With 4G LTE Technology Makes It a Truly Global Tablet

When users buy Apple's new iPad (the company has deliberately shied away from calling it the iPad 3), the device will be a world-class tablet in more than one way. Not only will it have world-class resolution on its much-hyped Retina Display, but it will be faster and have better app support than most other tablets out there. But perhaps the biggest improvement is the fact that the new iPad 3 will be usable in more than 200 countries, which basically means you can use whatever version you buy anywhere in the world.

As has been the case in the past, the 3G/4G version of the new iPad will have two flavors, one that works with the Verizon Wireless data network, and one that is designed for AT&T. Both will come with SIM cards for use on GSM-based systems and for Long-Term Evolution (LTE), which also uses SIM cards. The biggest difference is that the Verizon Wireless version will support Verizon's CDMA-based data network as well as LTE, and it will also support GSM-based data networks, including HSPA and UMTS.

The AT&T version won't support the Verizon CDMA legacy networks, but will support its existing GSM-based network, as well as its nascent LTE network.

If you look at the Websites for both carriers, you'll see that they both tout the ability to use the iPad globally, with Verizon claiming more than 200 countries and AT&T claiming slightly fewer. I assume this difference is because there are places in the world that also use the legacy CDMA standards, including some parts of India. Neither company was at the point of providing a definitive list, but that's not surprising. It is a little early after all, and the new iPad hasn't even shipped yet.

What's important is that just because you're traveling abroad, this doesn't mean you have to use the SIM card that both AT&T and Verizon Wireless provide with the iPad. While you can use it, and be billed on your carrier phone bill, you can also buy a local data SIM and use that. This means that if I were to want to use such an iPad in Germany, where I was recently attending CeBIT, I could have purchased a SIM from T-Mobile Germany, which is now deploying LTE, and used that.

It's worth noting that you can do this with either the AT&T or Verizon Wireless flavor of the new iPad. Both contain a SIM tray accessible from the exterior of the iPad, and neither device is locked. Yes, you heard that right. Unlike the phones these carriers sell, the iPad is not locked, and you can change datacarriers at will. In fairness, many of the devices that Verizon Wireless sells for global coverage are also unlocked, and you can install a foreign SIM in them if you wish.
AT&T, as far as I can tell, doesn't unlock its phones under normal circumstances.
This is important for a couple of reasons. The first is simply about money. Data roaming with a U.S. SIM card can be expensive. Those stories you hear about unwitting users running up bills of thousands of dollars for accidental data use while traveling aren't as rare as you might think. If you plan to use anything but WiFi while out of the United States, you can save a lot of money by picking up a SIM card for the country you're visiting.
This also means that you're not required to stick with the carrier that provided the initial SIM card. You can, for example, buy an AT&T iPad, pop in a T-Mobile SIM and use it on the T-Mobile network. Right now, that means you'd be stuck with a 2G EDGE connection, but by the end of the year, after T-Mobile deploys the new 4G frequencies it got from AT&T when their merger deal broke up, you'll be able to use the new iPad on T-Mobile's 4G network just by buying a new SIM card from T-Mobile.
A source at Apple, speaking on background, confirmed that both versions of the iPad have this capability. Whether that means that you can use a Verizon iPad on T-Mobile or another U.S. GSM carrier isn't completely clear, since I haven't tried it, but my source at Apple seemed to indicate that if the frequencies match, then it will work.
Incidentally, it's worth paying close attention to the rate structures on the 3G/4G iPads before you sign up. My analysis indicates that you get a better deal from Verizon Wireless, but then, this is being written before the new iPad actually arrives. The rate plans could change once that happens. It's also worth noting that I was told by a Verizon Wireless source that the company doesn't require U.S. users to use their data service, but that they think most users will want to. Considering Verizon's commanding lead in LTE deployment, Verizon is probably right about that.

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