Will Apple's iPad Wi-Fi + 3G crash AT&T?

If AT&T can't handle tethering, how will it cope with unlimited 3G data plans for the newest iPad?

1 2 3 Page 2
Page 2 of 3
Why AT&T may not be ready

As most iPhone users can tell you, AT&T's data network has gotten better in the past year, but it's still struggling. Text messages are often delayed. Web surfing can be slow.

And dare I mention the "T word?"

AT&T Mobility chief Ralph de la Vega said in November 2008 that tethering, the use of a cell phone's mobile broadband connection to provide Internet access to another device, would come to the iPhone "soon." Apple also promotes tethering as a major iPhone feature. So why hasn't AT&T rolled it out?

AT&T told Engadget this week exactly why: The network isn't ready for the increased traffic that would result.

Wait, AT&T can't handle tethering but can deal with the iPad Wi-Fi + 3G?

The number of tethering users would almost certainly be far lower than the coming number of iPad 3G data users. And the data per user will probably be much, much higher on the iPad.

Tethering would be costly to users -- probably at least $30 per month in addition to the cost of mobile broadband -- which would be a disincentive for mass adoption. The best-case scenario for tethering is double the cost of unlimited iPad data.

Tethering usually isn't especially bandwidth intensive. Users plug in laptops at the airport to download e-mail before flights, or surf the Web a bit.

On the other hand, iPad users will be watching streaming TV shows from apps like the ABC Player, or movies via Netflix. (Note that early reports suggest that the ABC player requires a Wi-Fi connection, and that Netflix movies are lower quality over the 3G connection -- evidence of tension between the experience Apple wants to provide and the one AT&T can deliver.) A tsunami of apps will drive ever-increasing demands for bandwidth.

I'm predicting that the iPad Wi-Fi + 3G will be given to a huge number of older parents on Mother's and Father's Day. I've tested this demographic on iPad use -- they go straight to TV, movies and video -- the most bandwidth-intensive activities.

When the holidays hit -- forget about it. The iPad Wi-Fi + 3G will be given to people of all ages, including children and teens, who will take advantage of unlimited data plans.

So what do we know about tethering? First, AT&T can't currently handle iPhone tethering traffic. Second, tethering is going to be implemented at some unknown point in the future, a future where iPad Wi-Fi + 3G unlimited plans are already taxing the network.

AT&T has committed to providing data for all the iPad Wi-Fi + 3G devices and all the customers who choose its future tethering option. That's a lot of data -- and possibly more than AT&T can deliver.

1 2 3 Page 2
Page 2 of 3
7 inconvenient truths about the hybrid work trend
Shop Tech Products at Amazon