Poor Sprint gets nothing as Verizon, AT&T nab 4G iPads

Sprint, despite carrying the iPhone, didn't get an iPad of its own, unlike AT&T and Verizon Wireless.

Roger Cheng Former Executive Editor / Head of News
Roger Cheng (he/him/his) was the executive editor in charge of CNET News, managing everything from daily breaking news to in-depth investigative packages. Prior to this, he was on the telecommunications beat and wrote for Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal for nearly a decade and got his start writing and laying out pages at a local paper in Southern California. He's a devoted Trojan alum and thinks sleep is the perfect -- if unattainable -- hobby for a parent.
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Roger Cheng
3 min read
Apple CEO Tim Cook introduces "The New iPad." Unfortunately, Sprint doesn't get one of its own. Donald Bell/CNET

Apparently, Sprint Nextel's seat at the cool kids' table got revoked by Apple.

As AT&T and Verizon Wireless got their hands on a shiny new 4G-enabled iPad, Sprint got stuck with zilch.

"Sprint is not carrying the iPad at this time," said a Sprint spokesman. He declined to comment on whether the company would eventually get to sell the device.

It's a bitter pill to swallow considering Sprint has committed to $20 billion over the next few years to carry the iPhone. While AT&T and Verizon Wireless get to bask in the afterglow of the new iPad announcement, Sprint has to sit quietly with its iPhones as its sole source of comfort.

Sprint executives have often referred to getting the iPhone as getting a seat at the cool kids' table. Indeed, the company and its leadership took on a new level of confidence once its deal with Apple went public.

The other major carrier, T-Mobile USA, also didn't get the iPad. But it's not surprising given Apple has no deal with T-Mobile to sell its iPhones.

The lack of an iPad could have to do with timing. Sprint is in the middle of rolling out its 4G LTE network and expects to be in 10 cities by the end of June. That's nice for Sprint, but Apple was likely looking at that paltry deploying and opting to take a pass.

Apple had to build two separate iPads to accommodate the different networks run by Verizon and AT&T. It may not have been worth it for Apple to build a third iPad for Sprint if the roll out was going to be so small.

In comparison, Verizon has the widest deployment by far with LTE covering 196 cities and 122 major airports. AT&T has a more limited deployment of in 28 cities but has argued that its HSPA+ network, which it also calls 4G, is more widely available.

Having the iPad hasn't been a blockbuster success for either carrier. While a smartphone is something nearly everyone could buy, tablets remain a luxury item more than anything. Several studies have noted that most of the iPads purchased are Wi-Fi only, which takes the carrier out of the equation. If nothing else, having the iPad affords Verizon and AT&T some bragging rights.

Apple launches latest iPad with 4G

The lack of an LTE iPad, however, has some implications on whether Sprint would get access to an LTE version of the next iPhone. The LTE iPad almost guarantees the next iPhone will come with LTE, which AT&T and Verizon are likely poised to get.

It's assumed Sprint would also get an LTE-enabled iPhone as well. But Sprint's LTE network runs on a different frequency than AT&T and Verizon, and would presumably need a bit more work. With so few cities covered by LTE, it's unclear if Apple would deem it worth its effort.

Still, Sprint could very well get an LTE-enabled iPhone. The iPhone could launch toward the end of the year, at which point Sprint will have many more cities covered with its next-generation network.

Hopefully by then, Sprint will get its cool kids seat back.