Forget 3G. AT&T says the Apple iPad is really a Wi-Fi device

The phone company's CEO says the kerfuffle over 3G network strain is besides the point – most Apple iPad owners will be using a Wi-Fi connection anyway.

The carrier has struggled to handle heavy data requests from iPhone users. What will happen when the Apple iPad launches? Depends on whom you ask.

Since Apple took the wraps off the iPad back in January, many analysts have wondered how the strained AT&T network would handle another 3G device. The naysayers offer something like this: AT&T already struggles in some markets to handle data requests from iPhone users. The arrival of the 3G-hogging iPad might fritz out the network all together.

Apple, it should be said, has stood by its man. "AT&T is a great partner," Tim Cook, chief operating officer at Apple said earlier this year. But now AT&T seems to be hinting that the 3G debate is besides the point. In a conference call with investors, AT&T chief exec Randall Stephenson forecasted that users of the Apple iPad would probably rely on Wi-Fi connections, rather than a subscription service.

"My expectation is that there's not going to be a lot of people out there looking for another subscription," Stephenson said, according to Reuters.

Apple will offer two versions of the iPad. The first is equipped only with a Wi-Fi connection, just like a regular laptop. The second – and more expensive – iPad comes with Wi-Fi and 3G capability, just like an iPhone. Consumers who opt for the more expensive 3G-equipped device can purchase subscription plans through AT&T. The company will charge $14.99 a month for up to 250MB of data. An unlimited mobile data plan will cost $29.99 a month. Neither plan will require a contract.

We tend to agree that most consumers will be fine with a Wi-Fi connection. The iPad, obviously, is not the iPhone – it's portable, but not pocket size, and we can't exactly picture ourselves pottering down the street, Googling the nearest restaurant on the iPad's big old screen. 3G would be useful if we were sipping a latte, for instance, or waiting for a flight, but Wi-Fi access is expanding fast, and many coffee shops and airports are already wired – or should we say wireless.

Moreover, the thought of adding another chunk of change to our already hefty phone bill doesn't exactly appeal.


Do you agree? Share your thoughts in the comments section, and follow the Horizons crew on Twitter and Facebook for more sci-tech news.

Check out our full iPad coverage, including price, specs, and the possibility of an iPad camera, here.

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