AT&T plans for impact of 3G iPad

US mobile operator AT&T is already upgrading its network to deal with the potential impact of 3G versions of Apple's iPad.

"Of course AT&T has factored the iPad into its network planning," said spokesman Mark Siegel.

Apple launched a WiFi only version of the iPad at the weekend, selling an estimated 300,000 units. Later in the month it will introduce a 3G version of the tablet computer. The tablet computer is expected to reach the UK in late April.

Some fear that should the 3G version of the iPad prove a hit, it could test AT&T's network, already under severe strain in some markets from heavy smartphone usage.

Several analysts said worries were overblown.

"There's a lot of worry and it makes for good reading to say it will have an impact. But I think not," said John Hodulik, an analyst at UBS, who expects the 3G iPad to sell less than half as many units as the WiFi version, mainly due to cost. The 3G and WiFi iPad will cost $630 in the US, $130 more than the WiFi-only model.

Ross Rubin, analyst at NPD, sees iPad buyers using 3G as a back-up when they are traveling out of town.

"It certainly doesn't fit in your pocket," Rubin said.

Christopher King, an analyst at Stifel Nicolaus, said it was too soon to tell how many people would buy the 3G iPad and how they would use it. But he sees most users sporadically downloading data to the device, much like on the Kindle e-book reader from Amazon.

"I don't think its going to be a big issue for AT&T," he said.

What is more, Hodulik expects that iPhone sales will tail off over the first half of this year, since consumers who do not already have an iPhone will likely wait for a new version expected this summer. The result would be fewer new users for AT&T's network.

Hodulik also pointed to AT&T's public commitment to increase its capital spending by $2bn this year to improve its network performance.

"While this is all going on, AT&T has made a significant increase in the amount it's investing in its network," he said.

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