Thelander doesn’t expect problems as serious as those that brought AT&T’s network to its knees in some places when the first 3G iPhone was introduced. That experience taught many lessons that have shaped the rollout of LTE networks, which use fundamentally more robust and efficient technology, he says.
LTE networks are still being expanded and are far from reaching their maximum capacity, he adds, although in a recent FCC filing, Verizon said that it would struggle to meet demand for 4G data by “2013 in some areas and by 2015 in many more” (pdf).
Amit Malhotra, a vice president of Metrico Wireless, which helps test mobile device and network performance for carriers and manufacturers, says that restrictions on wireless networks’ previously unlimited data plans will have a big effect on what users can do with their new iPads. “Most people are going to be limited by their data plans,” he says. “One of the selling points of the iPad is the display; people are going to watch HD content, and that means larger files.” Apple bumped the maximum size of mobile apps that can be installed over a wireless network from 20 megabytes to 50 megabytes last week.
A single HD movie download could be enough to exceed the limits of the entry-level data plans for the new iPad: AT&T offers three gigabytes of data every month for $30 and Verizon two gigabytes for the same price. Both companies levy fees for data used in excess of a person’s plan limits.
“Verizon is offering 10 gigabytes for $80 a month, which is about six hours of Netflix, but I would imagine most people won’t go for that,” says Malhotra. Streaming HD content from Netflix can consume as much as 2.3 gigabytes of data an hour, the company says.
That could frustrate users, who will have to learn that life with a new iPad imposes some constraints. “What will likely happen is they will get very efficient at switching to Wi-Fi whenever there’s an opportunity,” says Malhotra.
Given the likely problems, Verizon, AT&T, and some app providers may find themselves under pressure to make it easier for users to track and limit their use of 4G data. Last year, Netflix added new settings for Canadian users after that country’s ISPs introduced monthly data caps to many home broadband connections. Since they put an end to new unlimited data plans, both Verizon and AT&T have promoted apps that enable users to track their data usage. Buyers of the new iPad may need to become familiar with them.