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Why Sprint Is Noticeably Absent from The New iPad Party

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If you’ve been following GottaBeMobile this week, you’ll know that Apple’s iPad is the hot announcement at the moment. Apple introduced new iPad models with Retina Display clarity, new A5x processors with quad-core graphics, and fast 4G LTE connectivity in addition to WiFi-only models for AT&T and Verizon. Sprint, the third Apple iOS partner with the iPhone, however, was noticeably absent from Apple’s unveiling, and here are some possible reasons why Apple and Sprint are holding off for this announcement cycle.

Before we begin, though, we should disclose that we have not heard anything from Sprint’s team and all the potential reasons given are our own conjectures and speculations.

1. Network Technology:

Sprint, which was the third and so far last Apple carrier partner in the U.S. relies on the same 3G CDMA/EVDO technology that Verizon Wireless uses. However, where it comes to 4G, that’s a different matter. As the first U.S. carrier out of the door with 4G, Sprint had heavily invested in WiMax for its network, rather than the LTE protocol that its rivals ran with. In the last few months, however, Sprint has announced that it would begin to deploy 4G LTE and that the future of its 4G mobile broadband network is with LTE.

That said, Sprint is only beginning its network deployment and so far is trailing behind AT&T, which is trailing Verizon’s rollout. As such, Sprint probably does not want to have a 3G-only iPad model in most markets where it hasn’t deployed LTE and probably wants to take some time to build out its network before deploying a 4G LTE iPad.

As the carrier-dependent models of Apple’s iPad models rely heavily on fast 4G LTE to deliver graphics, text, and videos on the high definition Retina Display, Apple probably does not want to be marred by a 4G-only iPad. With HSPA+ models, iOS 5.1 added support for HSPA+ to be displayed as ’4G,’ showing that the race to 4G is important by both Apple and its carrier partner, in particular AT&T in that case.

The carrier will have more LTE cities up in 2012 and should be on its way to more robust coverage by 2013.

Once Sprint deploys a more robust and reliable 4G LTE network, a 4G LTE capable iPad is most probably in the cards. In the meantime, Sprint will probably need to do more testing on its LTE network and order SIM and micro SIM cards before any deployment happens.

2. Spectrum and Frequencies:

As we saw in the announcement, Apple will offer separate LTE models for AT&T and Verizon–one LTE iPad will not be able to rule both networks. That said, a Verizon iPad can probably accept a SIM card for AT&T and be used on HSPA+, rather than LTE on AT&T’s network provided that Apple repeats history and sells the iPad completely unlocked out of the gate.

With Verizon and AT&T, that’s two iPad models. Though Sprint and Verizon share the same spectrum on 3G CDMA/EVDO, the two CDMA carriers will utilize different spectrums for LTE. Sprint will be utilizing its PCS 1900 MHz band for LTE, which is far different from what Verizon and AT&T are offering. Apple probably wants to wait until Qualcomm comes out with a new Gobi modem or radio that can handle multiple LTE bands to accommodate all three U.S. networks and also HSPA+, CDMA, GSM, and EVDO to fall back on. That radio may take some time to get released, and hopefully, by the time the next new iPad comes out, we’ll see a unified iPad to rule all three carrier networks, much like what happened when Apple transitioned from separate iPhone 4 models for AT&T and Verizon to a unified iPhone 4S that supports Sprint, Verizon, and AT&T.

3. Speed Issues:

For those who may not recall, Apple and Sprint had received a number of complaints with the carrier’s launch of its first iPhone. Sprint’s iPhone 4S demonstrated slower 3G connectivity than Verizon’s model, despite both networks using the same technologies and spectrum, and both models were slower than AT&T’s HSPA+ iPhone. Given the new history between both companies, Apple probably wants to resolve any network issues with Sprint before deploying a new iPad model and wants to test Sprint’s 4G LTE network before deploying a new iPad.

4. What About Data Pricing?

While Sprint’s mobile phone plans are among some of the most affordable in the industry, with unlimited, unthrottled data plans, Sprint’s data packages for netbooks, notebooks, mobile hotspots, and tablets are actually on par with the industry with tiered data plans. The 3 GB data plan on Sprint costs $35, which is about equal to what its rivals are offering. Users on Sprint will experience similar tablet data costs for the iPad if and when Sprint and Apple come to an agreement for the tablet.

Tech enthusiast in Silicon Valley enjoying the possibilities of ubiquitous connectivity, information sharing, and collaboration enabled by mobile broadband. You can contact Chuong on Twitter @chuongvision or search +chuongvision on Google+.

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