Does Apple Have It In for AT&T?

Today’s unveiling of the Apple iPad, which resembles a slightly larger iPod touch and has the tech world all a-twitter, seems like a brutal blow to AT&T. First of all, it’s unlocked, and as such can run on other GSM-based networks, which means that AT&T may not be the only place iPad users can get their mobile broadband. Plus the pricing seems like it will cut into AT&T’s profits.

Granted, the extent to which a consumer could find another mobile broadband provider in the U.S. is unclear, as the micro SIMs that CEO Steve Jobs mentioned in his onstage presentation may not be tuned to other networks (see Why Your Nexus One Won’t Work on AT&T’s 3G for an explanation). PCMag has a nice story on micro SIMs for those who are curious — they’re basically smaller SIM cards. AT&T won’t comment on the announcement, but I imagine it will be a topic on the carrier’s quarterly results call tomorrow morning.

The revolution in pricing offered by the iPad is very clear. Jobs said those wanting 3G connectivity could get a prepaid AT&T data plan that allows about 250 MB of data downloads for $14.99 or an unlimited plan for $29.99. The 250 MB plan costs half as much as AT&T’s other prepaid data plans, presumably cutting into Ma Bell’s data margins. And the unlimited plan is the same price that folks currently pay for unlimited data via the iPhone, which had AT&T executive Ralph de la Vega complaining in December that folks were downloading too much. And giving folks a bigger, faster device isn’t likely to get them to cut back on their data consumption.

For more details on the iPad, a roundup of how AT&T has prepared its network for this moment, and some great facts about the average monthly data consumption on a superphone vs. a data card, check out my latest piece at GigaOM Pro (subscription required). Hint: the average superphone user already consumes more data in a month than a 250 MB plan accommodates.

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