Apple was able to pull off an engineering feat in its latest batch of iPads it hasn’t been able to accomplish for a long time: It has designed a single cellular version of both the iPad Air and new iPad Mini that will work on carrier networks across the globe.
In the past, Apple has been forced to make multiple versions of any cellular-connected device in order to capture the many differences in frequencies and technologies across the globe – the iPhone 5s and 5c each have four hardware variants, each with their own unique combination of LTE bands.
But Apple decided to put its foot down with this latest batch of iPads. They won’t be able to connect to as many networks in as many countries as the iPhone line, but the two iPads each sport an impressive 14 bands. They’ll work across all major North American and European carriers as well as link to many networks in Asia and the Middle East.
The most obvious beneficiary here in the U.S. is T-Mobile. Apple is supporting its LTE network for the first time in the iPad (though previous versions did work on the Advanced Wireless Service band T-Mo uses), and T-Mo is taking advantage of the situation by applying some interesting pricing models to the device. T-Mobile is luring customers in with a 200 MB a month free plan, similar to the promotions it’s running on connected laptops. Its first paid plans start at $30 a month for 2.5 GB.
Apple is clearly taking advantage of new advancements in baseband, radio front-end, and smart antenna technologies to give its devices a much broader in reach. The first LTE-connected iPad (Generation 3) only supported a few bands, and Apple was still forced to split it into two variants just to support two carriers: AT&T and Verizon.
Still Apple had to make some sacrifices. There’s no support for Time-Division LTE, the version of the LTE standard used by Sprint, China Mobile, Softbank Mobile, and many operators across Asia and the Middle East. Still, it’s not as important to Apple to support every LTE network on the iPad. Due to the cost of mobile data, the iPad is still primarily a Wi-Fi-first device. Consequently Apple sells a lot more Wi-Fi-only iPads.