iPad 3 to debut March 7, feature LTE support, reports claim

Hardware expert agrees that Apple will -- must -- make move on LTE this year

Apple will unveil the next iPad on March 7, according to reports.

And other claims surfaced today that the new iPad -- which most have dubbed the "iPad 3" -- will be the first Apple product to support the faster LTE data networks now available in the U.S. from carriers Verizon and AT&T.

One hardware expert agreed with the LTE assumption, first reported by the Wall Street Journal, saying that this is the year Apple will shift its mobile products to the advanced network.

"I'd be extremely surprised if the iPad 3 didn't support LTE," said Aaron Vronko, CEO of Rapid Repair, a repair shop and do-it-yourself parts supplier for the iPhone, iPod and iPad.

While Vronko expects Apple to add LTE support to 2012's iPhone as well, the faster speeds are critical for tablets, whose users consume large amounts of data, such as video, more frequently than smartphone owners. "LTE will be even more important to the iPad than the iPhone," Vronko argued.

Verizon has the clear lead in the U.S. when it comes to LTE coverage. Last month the carrier added five additional markets to its LTE ranks, bringing its total to 195. According to Verizon, 200 million Americans can now access a Verizon LTE connection.

AT&T, on the other hand, has deployed LTE in only 26 cities with a total consumer population of about 74 million. AT&T won't wrap up its LTE deployment until the end of 2013.

Although Tim Cook, now Apple's CEO, said last April that the then-available LTE chipsets would "force a lot of design compromises ... and some of those we are just not willing to make," the situation is different now, said Vronko.

He cited the availability of power-conscious chipsets and the overall improvement in baseband processors -- the silicon that connects devices to cellular networks -- as two reasons why 2012 is the year Apple will follow other handset manufacturers into LTE.

Another: LTE's expanded coverage this year compared to last.

"I think Apple passed on LTE [in 2011] because they thought that would be questioned since it would have appealed to such a small number of possible customers," Vronko said.

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