brycv icon

A window into the Digital Life of Bryan Vyhmeister

Back in the Land of the iPad (and 4G)

I purchased my first iPad right when they were first announced and I received it the first day of availability. In fact, I drove to the FedEx hub so I could pick it up as soon as the truck arrived from distribution. I purchased the top-of-the-line iPad 3G 64GB. I kept it for almost a year but decided to sell it in early 2011 shortly before the iPad 2 release. For a variety of reasons, I never purchased the iPad 2. On Friday, I decided to purchase the new iPad.

What Model?

I stood in line for the very first iPhone and have had one ever since. Sometimes I have upgraded on the day the new model became available and sometimes I have waited. I stayed with AT&T until Verizon finally had the iPhone 4. I purchased an iPhone 4 16GB on Verizon in February 2011 shortly after they initially became available. Prior to that I had been using an iPhone 4 32GB with AT&T.

In hindsight, 16GB is very limiting and can easily be swallowed up by just a few gigabytes of audio and a variety of apps. I should have gone with a larger size. I am still using the 16GB iPhone 4 and it is working well but it also gave me some insight into why a new iPad would have to have at least 32GB of memory.

App Size and the Retina Display

First off, iPad apps are larger in size in terms of storage than their iPhone counterparts due to the larger screen size. In addition, the release of the new iPad with a Retina Display further increases the app size. I have seen a variety of estimates from iOS developers on Twitter but the consensus seems to be that the app size is increased at least 2.5 times just due to the larger graphics needed for the Retina Display. Remember, while a retina display doubles the resolution in the horizontal and vertical individually (1024 doubled is 2048 and 768 doubled is 1536), this equates to a four times increase in resolution (1024 * 768 == (2048 * 1536)/4).

This further limits the capability of a 16GB iPad. Based on that information, I decided to pick between the 64GB and 32GB options. I concluded that either would work but I would most likely get the 64GB if available. I ended up purchasing my iPad from a Verizon Wireless retail store and they had just run out of 64GB models. That made the choice easy for the 32GB model.

4G or Wifi?

In my opinion, one of the greatest capabilities of the iPad is its ability to stay connected with cellular data anywhere. I knew immediately that the increased cost of the 4G model would be worth it to me. When I first purchased an iPad 3G, the choice was easy since only AT&T offered a cellular data-capable iPad. This time around I had to choose whether AT&T or Verizon would be the best choice.

One other huge factor also plays into the choice. At last Apple has provided the capability for the iPad to act as a personal hotspot for other nearby devices using WiFi, Bluetooth, or USB just like the iPhone. Verizon quickly announced that personal hotspot access on the iPad would come out of the normal data access allotment and no additional charges would be necessary. AT&T has yet to announce how it will allow use of the personal hotspot feature and what additional charges may apply. Verizon is definitely ahead of the curve here.

Some History on AT&T or Verizon

As the two largest carriers in the United States, AT&T and Verizon have gone through significant technological advances in the last two years. Back in December of 2010, Verizon first started launching its 4G LTE network. This next generation network was incredible since it allowed for upload and download speeds easily exceeding 15Mb/s. Verizon has kept deploying additional LTE coverage at lightning speed across the country and is making huge progress toward moving to an LTE-only network.

AT&T, on the other hand, has had a somewhat slow start on LTE. The first LTE deployments for AT&T happened in Texas in late 2011. There has finally been some build up of momentum as a few more markets have been launched. AT&T is in a unique position compared to Verizon. Verizon uses technology based on CDMA which is pretty much exclusively in use in the United States and China. The rest of the world, including AT&T, uses GSM-based technology.

CDMA has given rise to the wide deployment of EV-DO Rev. A, an evolution of CDMA technology, which tops out at 3Mb/s download speed. In real world usage, you would be lucky to achieve anything over 1.5Mb/s download speed. Upload speeds are typically slower. Much of Verizon’s network prior to late 2010 was deployed with either EV-DO or EV-DO Rev. A. Unfortunately, there is not a great upgrade path from EV-DO Rev. A. I believe this is why Verizon has put so much into its LTE deployments. Verizon saw the writing on the wall and knew they had to find a solution and be ahead of everyone else.

GSM, on the other hand, has had many more upgrade options along the way including HSPA (HSDPA at up to 14Mb/s download and HSUPA at up to 5.8Mb/s upload) along with the eventual deployment of HSPA+ which allows for 21Mb/s download speeds as typically deployed with AT&T. T-Mobile has also deployed equipment that can theoretically support up to 42Mb/s download speeds with HSPA+. T-Mobile actually announced HSPA+ service in mid 2010 before Verizon deployed LTE commercially.

The point of this cellular data history is that AT&T is in a better position to offer data speeds in more areas because they have deployed HSPA in most coverage areas and HSPA+ in many additional areas. Verizon, on the other hand, has either EV-DO Rev. A or 4G LTE. There is nothing in between to bridge the gap.

In nothing short of marketing confusion, AT&T is also calling its HSPA+ service 4G. This disturbs many because you will be quite lucky to get anything over 6Mb/s download speeds with the HSPA+ service. What this means for consumers is that the new iPad with 4G from AT&T will only actually be using 4G LTE in a few limited places while Verizon continues to deploy 4G LTE very aggressively.

Oddly enough, 4G LTE is actually descended from GSM so the three largest cellular operators in the United States will finally be on similar technologies within a few years as Sprint has also announced its intention to move to LTE.

I am somewhat disappointed that Apple did not create a universal iPad that works on LTE networks from both AT&T and Verizon but for some reason this was not possible at this stage which is almost certainly due to chipset limitations. I’m sure the next iPad will likely address this issue just like the iPhone 4S did for 3G voice and data networks.

The 4G Choice

Up until Friday I was still somewhat on the fence as to which carrier to use the iPad with. One particular piece of information ultimately made the choice an easy one. A variety of Mac news sites reported that an AT&T micro SIM will work in a Verizon iPad with some APN settings changes. That made the choice an easy one and so I went to the Verizon store.

Unfortunately, right where I live, AT&T provides faster service since Verizon only has EV-DO Rev. A service. Twenty miles down the freeway and Verizon has superb 4G LTE service.

Today was my first opportunity to actually use my iPad on 4G LTE. I was pleasantly surprised to get 15Mb/s download speeds and 14Mb/s upload speeds inside a medical office building. In non-4G areas, the EV-DO Rev. A service still works quite well.

The end result

I ended up getting a black 32GB iPad with 4G LTE on Verizon’s network and I am quite happy with the choice. Personal hotspot works great which I would not even be able to use with AT&T at this point. In fact, personal hotspot is so good that I will be eliminating my Verizon MiFi account in favor of the iPad. The increased antenna size and battery life are a a major benefit.

The next step is using the iPad for productive work. Like I covered in a previous post, there are ways to use the iPad to increase productivity and flexibility. I will be receiving some additional accessories over the next few days that I will be reviewing for use with the iPad.