GottaNeed for Speed: Why I Chose a Verizon 4G iPad to Use With AT&T’s HSPA+ Service

The debate for most 4G-hopeful iPad owners in the U.S. will be which network to choose between AT&T and Verizon Wireless, and that’s a valid concern and my colleague K.T. Bradford had detailed many considerations to make when choosing your LTE iPad. For me, though, AT&T’s network may offer users more flexibility and the reason is HSPA+. Potentially, your best bet in terms of 4G LTE coverage and HSPA+ may be to buy a Verizon iPad and use AT&T service where it makes sense.

4G Speed Tests Shows Comparable LTE Performance

In my testing where Verizon and AT&T both have LTE turned on in the San Francisco Bay Area, LTE speeds were comparable on both networks. The real difference in speeds between the two networks is between 3G speeds. Verizon’s EVDO network gave me bursts of around 1 Mbps, most often times just under 1 Mbps. On AT&T’s HSPA+ network, I get between 1-3 Mbps, usually averaging between 2-3 Mbps, which is at least double the speed of Verizon’s 3G network, giving HSPA+ an edge where non-LTE networks are concerned.

The Issue of the Network-Locked iPad

Apple announced that there will be two flavors of 4G LTE iPads–one for Verizon and one for AT&T. As Verizon and AT&T operate LTE networks on different spectrums, the two models are not interchangeable for the two networks and users who buy the Verizon iPad are locked into Verizon’s 4G LTE network as users with AT&T iPad are locked into AT&T’s network. However, Apple said that the LTE-locked iPads would be 3G world-ready devices. The story with 3G CDMA/EVDO and GSM/HSPA+ is different as those radios may still be unlocked as they have been in prior 3G iPad models.

In the past, Apple sold their iPad tablets unlocked as the tablets did not require a long-term data contract and users are free to activate and stop their data contracts in any given month. Data plan pricing are month-to-month. Potentially, the non LTE radio portions of the 4G iPad would be unlocked for world travel still so a Verizon 4G LTE iPad would only be locked onto Verizon’s network as far as LTE is concerned. If the iPad ships SIM unlocked, as it had before, users can swap in a micro SIM from AT&T and use Verizon’s 4G iPad on AT&T’s 3G and 4G HSPA+ network–they just can’t use a Verizon 4G iPad on AT&T’s LTE network.

The Hardware Support on the iPad: 

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According to Apple’s page, Verizon’s iPad models support the following bands: Wi-Fi + 4G for Verizon model: LTE6 (700 MHz); CDMA EV-DO Rev. A (800, 1900 MHz); UMTS/HSPA/HSPA+/DC-HSDPA (850, 900, 1900, 2100 MHz); GSM/EDGE (850, 900, 1800, 1900 MHz)–this will make the Verizon iPad compatible with AT&T’s HSPA+ network. AT&T’s 4G iPads will support the following bands: Wi-Fi + 4G for AT&T model: LTE6 (700, 2100 MHz); UMTS/HSPA/HSPA+/DC-HSDPA (850, 900, 1900, 2100 MHz); GSM/EDGE (850, 900, 1800, 1900 MHz). As AT&T’s model lack CDMA/EVDO support, AT&T’s iPad model won’t be able to hop on Verizon’s network.

Why Choose Verizon for Hardware and AT&T for Service?

So why would anyone do this? While Verizon’s 4G LTE coverage is the most robust compared to other carriers in the U.S., 3G on HSPA/HSPA+ is still faster than on Verizon’s 3G EVDO network. That essentially means that in most cases, AT&T’s 3G is faster than Verizon’s 4G.

 

So for business users who may frequent LTE and non-LTE areas, or those who may travel between an area with LTE and areas without LTE coverage, Verizon’s LTE iPad may be the best way to go as it offers the option for LTE as well as the flexibility to add on AT&T’s non-LTE service in the future.

For instance, if I lived in an LTE city–let’s call it City A–and commute to a non-Verizon LTE City B for work and my employer was willing to pick up my mobile broadband plan, I can get a month-to-month micro SIM from Verizon and an iPad 4G from Verizon for use in City A where Verizon LTE is present. When I am in City B or off-site for work where Verizon doesn’t have LTE, I can potentially pop in a micro SIM from AT&T that would allow me to surf at 4G HSPA+ speeds, which are about double the speeds of Verizon’s non-4G speeds.

If you go this route, be sure to check out AT&T’s HSPA+ coverage. Though HSPA+ isn’t available everywhere, its coverage is in more areas than LTE is, and Verizon’s LTE coverage is more widely deployed in the U.S. than AT&T’s LTE is at this time.

And since iPad data plans are month-to-month, you can start or stop your service at any time without any long-term commitments, offering you the flexibility to ‘network hop’ between Verizon’s and AT&T’s 3G service if you choose.

The situation makes even more sense for those who make infrequent trips to non-4G coverage areas. If you have strong Verizon signal and spend most of your time in Verizon 4G where coverage is more robust, Verizon may be the network and iPad 4G of choice for you. And when you travel to an area not serviced by Verizon LTE, signing up for a month of AT&T’s HSPA+ service may be a good alternative to Verizon’s 3G service, especially if you’re impatient for webpages to load.

Is HSPA+ Fast Enough?

HSPA+ will be fast enough for most basic tasks, such as surfing the web, streaming music, and checking email. 1-3 Mbps download speeds will be impressive enough for many tasks. Where LTE will shine is for uploads, where LTE uplink speeds are 2-5 Mbps compared to th up to 1 Mbps–usually 500 Kbps–on HSPA+. Another area for LTE is for video streaming. With a Retina Display, HD video streaming will benefit most from the speeds of LTE, which are described as up to 10 times the speeds of 3G networks.

 

Comments

  1. Anne says

    I called Apple sales and they say this is not possible. They say you’re locked into that carrier in the US even though you can get another carriers sim outside the US.

    • WirelessWorld says

      That was the simple, layperson answer.

      It’s more complicated than that.  The iPad isn’t carrier-locked, but in the case of the Verizon unit, just inserting a GSM/UMTS MicroSIM isn’t going to cause it to not use Verizon’s network.  It’s going to prefer Verizon’s network wherever it can find it.  If it can’t, then it will try to switch to whatever network it has a MicroSIM for.

      Verizon’s CDMA2000 network doesn’t use SIM cards.  Only GSM/UMTS, and LTE networks use it.

      You could put a T-Mobile MicroSIM in the AT&T version, but you might not be happy with the results.  T-Mobile has 2G on 1900 MHz, and 3G on 1700 and 2100 MHz.  The iPad doesn’t support 1700 MHz.  That means when you are in a T-Mobile coverage area that has 3G on 1700, you are going to be stuck with 2G speeds on 1900 MHz.

  2. RogWilco says

    The real question is if the carrier-specific iPads *can’t* or *won’t* accept the other’s SIM cards. If they won’t (as in the iPad is locked), a simple jailbreak could resolve that fairly quickly. If it’s a can’t (as in a technical limitation), one may just be SOL.

    • WirelessWorld says

      iPads are not carrier locked.  They haven’t been in the last two versions, and there’s nothing in Apple’s announcement or documentation to suggest that they’ve changed this.  They are sold without contract, they are not subsidized, so there is no reason to lock them.

      In the US, the new iPad is being sold as either “Verizon” or “AT&T.”  Both support GSM/UMTS networks on global frequencies, so they should work in most markets.  The difference is that the Verizon version includes CDMA2000 support, for Verizon’s legacy 3G network, and only supports 700 MHz LTE, as that is the only band Verizon has deployed it in.   The so-called AT&T version supports LTE in both 700 and 2100 MHz bands, since that’s where AT&T is deploying it.

      LTE in Canada looks like it will be on the same frequencies as the US, but beyond that, it looks like most of the rest of the world will be doing LTE on 1800 MHz.  Given that, your new iPad will work on LTE only in the US and Canada.  

  3. HiloBoy says

    There’s some fault in logic in this article. If one could use an AT&T SIM in a Verizon new iPad, and that’s not at all certain, you would have to have data plans from both carriers in order to use Verizon LTE and AT&T HSPA+ with the same iPad. That would not be economical, as well as probably not feasible. I think what Chuong is suggesting simply won’t work.

  4. Waleed says

    i actually thought about that. It’s really clever what you’re suggesting. I already ordered AT&T cuz i was in rush but i still have two weeks to return policy. So my concern here, is it really going to work, if does i’d be so happy. Thank you for wonderful article, you’re genius :)  

  5. Ralphmalph says

    The Verizon iPad will not work with an AT&T SIM inside the US.  It will outside the US.   The ATT iPad will work with ANY SIM anywhere (of course LTE won’t work outside ATT),

  6. DaveL says

    I agree with the author and I ordered a Verizon iPad with the same thinking. Based on the specs, both AT&T and Verizon support HSPA+ and both are unlocked. I don’t think they can unlock only carriers outside the US. Apple or AT&T may not allow you to sign up AT&T plan from a Verizon iPad. But you should be able to put an activated AT&T sim into a Verizon iPad and use with AT&T HSPA+/3G/EDGE network.

    • Ralphmalph says

      I ordered the VZW as well for that reason but I’ll bethca it doesn’t work.  ;)   Just like the VZW iPhone 4S won’t work with an ATT SIM in the US and it does have the bands.

      • CuriousGeorge says

        Please correct me if I am wrong but Verizon iPhone 4S does not have a SIM. This article makes sense, but don’t know if Apple would block ATT SIM on a Verizon iPad. That would be bad. 
        And here we are talking about ATT 4G LTE which is close to non existence. Their phone service sucks and the call drops are every day incidents. Its frustrating how are they even allowed to market themselves on reliability. OK. Enough of my rant. 
        But nice article, I did think of this and bumped into this page after I started searching “can I use verizon iPad with ATT”

        • WirelessWorld says

          Other than colors and storage capacity, there is only one model of iPhone 4S (Apple calls it the “N94″).  It has GSM/UMTS, and CDMA2000 radios.

          The iPhone 4S can be had either locked, or unlocked.  That’s where things get interesting.

          The “unlocked” iPhone 4S can be used on any GSM/UMTS network.  All you have to do is insert a MicroSIM card from the carrier you want to use, activate service with that carrier, and you are set.

          This is NOT the case for CDMA2000 networks.  There is no such thing as an “unlocked” iPhone for CDMA2000 networks.  If you buy one to use on Verizon, it is locked to Verizon.  Same for Sprint.  Since CDMA2000 networks don’t use SIM cards, the subscriber identity and carrier feature information is in the device firmware itself.

          AT&T’s LTE deployment is at least a year behind Verizon’s, but it’s growing rapidly.  As for their cellular voice service, I travel quite a bit for my job, and it works well enough in most markets across the US.  AT&T has done quite a bit to improve their network over the last few years, and it shows.  Verizon may be better in some markets in terms of coverage, but they aren’t flawless either.  I’ve found spots where I have poor or no service on Verizon.  Nobody’s perfect.  

  7. Houstondatateam says

    The 3G on VZW’s LTE devices is actually a technology called eHRPD and is a path between the 2 networks- essentially a bridge technology…. Coverage is everything- VZW has the spectrum battle won- ATT can’t even manage their 3G network- I’m not trusting them to change overnight and become a reliable option….

  8. WirelessWorld says

    I suspect that the author is in for a rude surprise.

    CDMA2000 networks, like Verizon and Sprint 3G services, do not use SIM cards.  They have subscriber identity and carrier feature settings in firmware, rather than a SIM card.

    GSM/UMTS and LTE networks do require a SIM card.

    If you fire up the new Verizon iPad, and sign up for their data plan, the device will work on their CDMA2000 network, and LTE network, wherever it can get reception.

    If you pull out the Verizon LTE SIM, and replace it with an AT&T SIM, Verizon LTE won’t be available.

    If you are in the US, and your Verizon iPad can see their CDMA2000 network, it’s a pretty fair bet that it’s going to stay on that, and ignore the AT&T SIM.  This is because the device is optimized to work on Verizon’s network, with GSM/UMTS capability as a fall-back when roaming, not a selectable alternative.

    Let us know how that works out.

  9. Chris Dunphy says

    The app ‘Coverage?’ in the app store allows you to directly overlay and compare Verizon’s and AT&T’s coverage maps, including focusing just on “4G” and LTE maps.

    Verizon has a huge lead in LTE right now, but AT&T has a decent lead once you factor in their “4G” HSPA+ areas.

    It is a tough call. In the end we went with Verizon. And now we find out that we can keep using our unlimited AT&T SIM, even in the Verizon iPad. Awesome!

  10. Lesley says

    I forget if it was cnet or consumer reports or some other site that did a review on which 4g network was consistently better, but they found that even though hspa+ is faster than verizon’s 3g network, that Verizon had more consistent speed…

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