Apple Tablet not necessarily on Verizon Wireless, analysts say

Expected device may run on both AT&T and Verizon 3G networks, sources say

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On a broader basis, Verizon has also established a larger area of coverage for 3G wireless in the U.S than AT&T, an issue highlighted in a series of TV ads. AT&T has responded with its own ads, making note of greater variety of network capabilities for its users.

De la Vega has described a series of network buildouts that include moving to a faster variation of its 3G network, called HSPA 7.2, to be installed in 25 cities by mid-2010. Asked today about the status of six cities that were due to be activated with HSPA 7.2 by now, however, the AT&T spokesman would not comment.

Theoretically, HSPA 7.2 gives a maximum download speed of 7.2 Mbit/sec, with average speeds double of what AT&T can now offer with conventional 3G, de la Vega said. Presumably, an Apple tablet could take advantage of HSPA 7.2, but it is not completely clear that's the case.

However, theoretical speed is largely meaningless, especially to end users, Gold and other analysts noted.

Root Wireless found in a recent study that average 3G speeds for AT&T ranged from 246 Kbit/sec in New York to a high of 428 Kbit/sec in Dallas. Also in that study, Verizon offered average 3G speeds from 195 Kbit/sec in Seattle to 259 Kbit/sec in Chicago.

If users decide to connect to a cellular wireless connection, they will have the variations of distance, the number of other users and physical obstacles, just as they do today with cellular voice services.

If they work within a Wi-Fi network, as the Apple tablet is rumored to support, speeds of 10 Mbit/sec up to more than 100 Mbit/sec is possible, but only within that network.

A user bringing in a signal via cable modem or DSL to a business or home Wi-Fi zone might only get 1 Mbit/sec to 7 Mbit/sec, which puts a limit on the total network connection, even over the Wi-Fi portion, Gold said.

For most users of the expected Apple tablet, 3G speeds would be enough to support their needs "unless they are doing a lot of streaming video," Gold said. At the average speeds Root Wireless found, streaming video could pose problems, he said.

Video streaming is more easily addressed with the prospect of much faster speeds of up to 6 Mbit/sec. with next-generation Long Term Evolution (LTE) networks, which both Verizon and AT&T are adopting. Verizon is aiming to launch LTE in up to 30 markets in 2010, and has already begun trials in Boston and Seattle, while AT&T will introduce services in 2011.

Apple would have to update its tablet for LTE connections. The company would also have to do an update if it wants to go to another fast wireless standard called WiMax, which is being rolled out now by Clearwire and Sprint Nextel. WiMax offers download speeds of between 3 and 6 Mbit/sec. Nobody is talking about Apple's tablet supporting WiMax, however.

Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen, send e-mail to or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed .

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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