Apple's tablet will use Verizon's 3G network, sources say

Wall Street analyst claims multiple carriers to support device, but 'definitely Verizon'

Apple's tablet will use Verizon's wireless data network to connect to the Internet when users are out of range of a Wi-Fi hotspot, a Wall Street analyst today said his sources were reporting.

"The tablet will be supported by multiple [mobile] carriers," said Brian Marshall of Broadpoint AmTech, citing unnamed sources he said were close to the situation. "Verizon and others," he continued. "Definitely Verizon. I've been told that's a certainty."

Yesterday, the Wall Street Journal (subscription required) added its voice to the clamor about an impending Apple tablet, saying that the device would be unveiled later this month but wouldn't ship until March. According to the Wall Street Journal, Apple has been working on two different material finishes for the tablet, which will sport a 10- or 11-in. screen.

Most are betting that Apple will introduce the tablet the last week of this month. The U.K.-based Financial Times has pegged the date as Jan. 26, while more recently the Daily Digital blog pegged the next day, Wednesday, Jan. 27, for the roll-out.

What the tablet will include and what it will do is a mystery -- no surprise considering that Apple is one of the most secretive companies in the U.S. But that hasn't stopped the rumor mills from cranking into high gear, nor analysts from speculating.

Richard Doherty, director of technology at the consulting firm Envisioneering Group, told the Wall Street Journal that he doesn't expect the tablet to connect a 3G network, in large part because of the high-profile problems AT&T, Apple's exclusive U.S. carrier for the iPhone, has had keeping up with data demand. "We don't think the networks are up to it," Doherty told the newspaper.

Marshall disagreed. "The tablet will connect to 3G," he said, "not just wireless [hotspots]."

How the tablet connects to the Internet will be crucial to its success, Marshall and other analysts have argued, since media content, including books, TV shows and movies, will be one of Apple's biggest advantages over rivals who have, or will, introduce tablets or e-book readers of their own.

"It will be an e-reader, that's certain," said Marshall, admitting that he underestimated the e-book reader when Amazon introduced its original Kindle. Now, he's a convert. "Amazon sold two million Kindles in the second half of last year," he said. "Clearly, the market is much larger than what I expected. So Apple's tablet will be an e-reader, but also a TV viewer and more. For Apple, content is the focus of the tablet."

Ezra Gottheil, an analyst with Technology Business Research, seconded Marshall's take that content is Apple's ace in the hole. Like Marshall, Gottheil accepted the Wall Street Journal story at face value -- "It makes sense," he said today. Then he used its timeline to make some projections of his own.

"If the time window is as short as [the Wall Street Journal] says, then Apple has to have something to deliver already in the chute," Gottheil said. "It's likely that a few key developers are prepared to have something ready by March, but only a few. Apple wouldn't talk to more than that for fear of details leaking."

Already signed and sealed, Gottheil said, were deals with book, magazine and newspaper publishers; movie studios; and television networks. "Apple will have had to make a lot of deals with content providers by now if it is launching in March," he said.

A Verizon spokeswoman declined to respond to Marshall's claim, citing company policy against commenting "on rumors or speculation. And we won't do that here."

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter @gkeizer, send e-mail at gkeizer@ix.netcom.com or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed .

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