Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) new LTE-equipped iPad comes with a bevy of features, not the least of which is the ability to quickly suck up an owner's monthly mobile data allotment.
Two of the new iPad's highest-profile features are its stunning high-resolution Retina display and LTE network support. The tablet is also compatible with HSPA+, HSDPA, and Wi-Fi networks and now both CDMA and GSM iPad users have the ability to easily roam internationally, said Apple. In addition, personal hotspot functionality can be used to share the iPad's network connection with up to five other devices using Wi-Fi, Bluetooth or USB when supported by an operator's data plan.
Apple says in LTE mode, the iPad can support data speeds up to 73 Mbps, rather than the more commonly cited theoretical maximum speed of 72 Mbps. Whatever the exact speed, a problem lurks in that high-speed data support because mobile operator data pricing will limit data consumption.
Apple is making an iPad for AT&T Mobility's (NYSE:T) LTE network in the 704-746 MHz range and Verizon Wireless' (NYSE:VZ) LTE network in the 746-748 MHz range. Both operators have ceased selling unlimited data plans, preferring tiered data plans instead. On both networks, a 5 GB data plan costs $50 per month, and Verizon also sells a 10 GB plan for $80 per month. Cheaper plans are available from both operators as well, but, in any case, exceeding a data plan will incur hefty overage charges.
Though the new iPad offers a reasonable nine-hour battery life when equipped with the LTE chipset--just an hour less than the 3G version--an iPad owner could meet a mobile data cap in mere minutes. It is estimated that downloading a high-definition video at 72 Mbps could eat up a 5GB plan in less than 10 minutes. Even assuming much slower real-world speeds, a user could easily exceed a 50 GB data plan's cap in less than a day simply by engaging in video and audio streaming or app downloading, not to mention syncing media files to Apple's iCloud storage service, which the company just expanded to support movie purchases.
3G-equipped tablets sold through operators have actually enjoyed surprisingly little uptake, in part because many users find themselves turning to Wi-Fi, rather than a mobile operator's pricey data service, in order to consume data on a tablet in anything more than quick engagements. While some have called for operators to lower their mobile data prices in order to enable more data consumption by smartphone and tablet users--and, some contend, encourage more product innovation--the truth of the matter is that operators may intend to keep prices high not just to maintain healthy revenue streams but also to control data traffic on their networks, even the more spectrally efficient LTE ones.
That means people who want to fully utilize their new iPad's 2048x1536 Retina display will continue turning to Wi-Fi in order to download the larger file sizes that are required to access detailed images. They would be wise to also follow other recommendations for not exceeding data caps, such as turning off any VPN and location services, adjusting data-fetch settings in apps and switching off 3G or LTE access when not in use.
Starting price for the basic version of the new iPad is $499, the same price that the previous version, the iPad 2, carried. The price on the older version was just dropped by $100, however. The new iPad with Wi-Fi and LTE will cost $629 for the 16 GB version, $729 for the 32 GB version and $829 for the 64 GB version. Pre-orders have begun, and the first shipments of the new tablet are slated to begin on March 16.
Consultancy Ovum forecasts there will be in excess of 235 million tablets in circulation by 2016.
AT&T, Verizon land new Apple iPad with LTE, Retina Display
Sprint snubbed in Apple's debut of LTE iPad
Apple brings movies to iCloud
Report: Apple's tablet competitors can't crack 5% market share