Verizon Wireless and Apple aren’t limiting their new chumminess to an iPhone deal. Verizon chief financial officer Francis Shammo told Bloomberg that Apple would release an iPad with the embedded silicon necessary to connect directly to the Verizon Wireless network, allowing Verizon to dump the ad hoc router-plus-Wi-Fi iPad program it now has in place. Since Verizon has activated the hotspot capabilities of the iPhone, it would presumably do the same for the iPad, allowing the tablet itself to distribute its connection to other devices.
The Bloomberg story, however, didn’t note whether this new VZW iPad would use the operator’s new lightning fast long-term evolution (LTE) network to connect or, like the new iPhone, would connect using its older and slower CDMA EV-DO network. With the iPhone, Apple simply changed out the radio silicon on the iPhone 4, since adding LTE would have required a major redesign. The iPad, however, is due for a hardware and design update this summer (following Apple’s usual yearly iOS device release schedule), which could mean the carrier-vendor duo are setting the stage for the first Apple LTE device later this summer. Shammo didn’t say when the device was to be released.
While Verizon’s EV-DO network can handle the bandwidth demands of the majority of iPhone applications, the iPad’s larger screen and more robust applications would certainly benefit from an LTE connection. Streamed movies from Netflix are already popular on the iPad. The speed boost of the LTE network could make that high-quality video almost seamless—though rather expensive.
VZW and Apple have already started heading off potential problems with applications not optimized for the 3G network. An Apple spokeswoman told the San Jose Mercury News that Apple’s real-time video chat application would be limited to WiFi on the CDMA iPhone 4, just as it is limited to WiFi for AT&T customers. The assumption was that video streaming would be too much of a bandwidth hog to enable a quality experience over the AT&T high-speed packet access (HSPA) network, but the fact that Verizon is also limiting FaceTime to WiFi indicates that the problem may lie with latency not bandwidth or capacity.
Verizon is already streaming whole NFL football games to its smartphones, so it should have no problem handling the bits in a two-way video conversation. But the CDMA network, like AT&T’s HSPA network, has high levels of latency, which introduces a noticeable delay into any real-time communications. With WiFi the video stream goes right from the WiFi router onto the Internet and to Apple’s FaceTime servers. Over a 3G network, the stream must traverse the radio link, the base station, backhaul and aggregation networks, a base station controller and finally the mobile packet core before it can be routed to Apple. All of those extra hops produce a high-level a latency, which would make a video conversation unintelligible. It’s one of the reasons why other real-time services like push-to-talk have failed to make an impact over 3G networks.
T-Mobile is allowing its video chat over its HSPA+ network, though its upgraded 3G systems support a lower latency than CDMA. Many other third-party developers like Fring and Skype have created video-chat and features for 3G smartphones, so it is possible to run real-time video over the networks with some delay. Apple might not be following them down the same path in an effort to inject quality control into its branded application. From its point of view, no video chat is better than a choppy delayed conversation.