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FCC: iPad use could further strain AT&T 3G

If the 3G version of Apple's iPad tablet proves to be as popular as analysts are predicting, AT&T will face increased network congestion problems, warns a blog post by two agency directors.


Although Apple's iPad has yet to hit the market, the Federal Communications Commission has expressed concern over its potential impact on AT&T's 3G network.

Without naming AT&T, which has secured a carrier deal for the tablet device, Phil Bellaria, director of scenario planning, and John Leibovitz, deputy chief of the Wireless Telecommunications Bureau, outlined their concerns in an FCC blog post Monday:

With the iPad pointing to even greater demand for mobile broadband on the horizon, we must ensure that network congestion doesn't choke off a service that consumers clearly find so appealing, or frustrate mobile broadband's ability to keep us competitive in the global broadband economy.

The iPad is expected to come in two model types, one of which enables both Wi-Fi and 3G connectivity. Amid widespread concern that iPhone data service use has been overwhelming AT&T's 3G network, the FCC may have good reason to be worried that the 3G iPad, also set to use AT&T's network in the United States, may exacerbate AT&T's perceived wireless-connectivity issues.

Cities in which the smartphone enjoys noticeable popularity, including New York and San Francisco, seem to be especially hard-hit by outages, dropped calls, delayed messages, slow Web access, and service interruptions. Heavy use of the phone's data services at large trade shows ranging from South by Southwest in Austin, Texas, and the NAMM music show in Anaheim, Calif., has reportedly brought AT&T's network to its knees.

In announcing its quarterly earnings in January, Apple said it sold 8.7 million iPhones, a 100 percent gain over the last year. Analysts are predicting that Apple could sell between 2 million and 5 million iPads in the first year. Obviously, between that and the continued sales of the iPhone, AT&T's network could quickly feel the strain. However, Apple seems to be standing by AT&T.

"As you know, AT&T has acknowledged they're having issues in a few cities" and are working on a plan to correct them, Apple Chief Operating Officer Tim Cook said during the company's earnings conference call. "We have personally viewed these plans, and we have high confidence that they'll make significant progress in addressing them."