AT&T's competitors are making pitches to WiFi-only iPad users, hoping to capitalize on years of complaints about the speed of AT&T's "overloaded" 3G network. Verizon is pushing its MiFi mobile hotspot
to iPad owners, and now Sprint is getting into the game, offering a snazzy carrying case called the Sprint 4G Case for iPad
that allows you to tote your tablet plus Sprint's Overdrive: a 3G/4G (if you consider WiMAX "4G") portable WiFi access point, for what the carrier promises is "way, way faster" data service in 27 cities in the US.
Sprint executives told Forbes
earlier this year that they saw devices like the iPad as a "Trojan horse" for their high-speed wireless network
. Paget Alves, Sprint's president of Business Markets, said he hoped that people who want to "have the same experience as in Starbucks" while on the go would be willing to buy the Overdrive for $100 and pay $60 a month for data. They have a hard sell, though. Though the 3G version of the iPad will be about $130 more than the WiFi-only model, data charges are just $15 per month for up to 250 MB and $30 per month for unlimited amount of data, while both competitor's plans have data caps. Also Sprint's deal, like Verizon's, requires two-year commitments while the AT&T plan is month-to-month.
There may be some room for competition for power users who really want the fastest network - that is, if the number-two and number-three US carriers can deliver on their hype. Verizon continues to goad AT&T, calling their 3G service "an overloaded network with limited coverage." And Sprint claims that its WiMAX service, which they claim will expand to cover an area with 120 million people
by the end of this year, offers up to 10 times faster speeds than 3G.
Otherwise, it's hard to imagine who's going to want to shell out twice to four times the money for data on their iPads. One bonus both competitors' solutions offer, though, is the ability to connect up to 5 devices at once. And Sprint not only wants your iPad to be one of them, but your iPhone, too.
Depending on what happens to AT&T's network as more and more iPads come online, the improved performance might make enough of a difference for some.