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Small crowd clamors for Wi-Fi-only version of new iPad at Wal-Mart

Experts question how well the pricier LTE version from carriers will do

March 16, 2012 09:44 AM ET

Computerworld - Will the new iPad with 4G LTE wireless service be as popular as the less expensive version that's Wi-Fi-only?

It's a question on the minds of many analysts. They have often reported that Wi-Fi-only tablets of various brands sell better than their more expensive counterparts that provide cellular wireless as well as Wi-Fi.

Up to now, 3G iPads with slower speeds than LTE have been available. This is the first time the iPad has included the faster LTE service in some models, which adds another $130 to the sale price. With Verizon Wireless and AT&T, that price is $629.99 for the 16GB version, $729.99 for 32GB, and $829.99 for 64GB.

When the new Wi-Fi-only iPad went on sale early Friday at a 24-hour Wal-Mart in the college town of Harrisonburg, Va., all 20 models quickly sold out, store clerks said, and some customers waiting in line had to be turned away. The store was selling only the Wi-Fi-only versions, and more stock was expected to arrive either late Friday or early Saturday, they said.

By contrast, both the nearby AT&T and Verizon stores had no crowds and only one or two customers apiece when they opened at 8 a.m. Friday. The carriers were selling only LTE plus Wi-Fi versions of the new iPad.

At the Verizon location, one sales clerk noted that customers don't need a contract to buy a new LTE-ready iPad and that the various tiers of data service are paid for as needed with a credit card. The plans include 2GB for $30 and 10GB for $80 a month.

Verizon earlier this week said customers had been "enthusiastic" to buy the iPad on Verizon's 3G network, and the carrier expected "even more excitement" for the new iPad with Wi-Fi plus 4G.

Verizon on Thursday said 200 cities had LTE service on its networks. AT&T said it has reached nearly 30 cities with LTE, although it also has fast service on its HSPA+ networks and 3G that customers can revert back to.

Verizon emphasized that LTE can be valuable for workers and students for fast downloads, but analysts warned that data costs can quickly mount up if users aren't careful.

Downloading a full-length HD movie, for example, which can total more than 3.7GB, over a cellular network would cost a Verizon customer as much as $50: $30 for the one-month 2GB tier service and $10 for each subsequent 1GB overage charge. Such costs are why many experts recommend using Wi-Fi to download large files.

Apple's new iPad features a Retina display, LTE connectivity, and more -- but is it advanced enough to stay ahead of rivals?

covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at Twitter @matthamblen or subscribe to Hamblen RSSMatt's RSS feed. His email address is mhamblen@computerworld.com.

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