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Sprint iPad to Get Unlimited 4G LTE?


Sprint will continue to offer an unlimited data package to 4G LTE subscribers. What does this mean for future iPad buyers?

It could mean that they will finally be able to cut the hoard -- that is, the data-hogging corporations that continually throttle loyal, lifelong customers while doing everything they can to milk new customers. From AT&T (NYSE: T) and Verizon (NYSE: VZ) to T-Mobile, whose unlimited data plan isn't really unlimited, and MetroPCS (NYSE: PCS), which started charging $70 for unlimited LTE this week (all the while throttling the rest of its customers), telecommunications companies love to hoard.

Sprint (NYSE: S), however, has continued to offer a truly unlimited data plan that doesn't involve any caps or throttling. According to Engadget, Sprint will extend its unlimited data to 4G LTE customers when the company launches its LTE coverage in midyear 2012.

Coincidentally, Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) is rumored to be releasing the iPhone 5 in June. It probably won't happen. But it's possible that the credible-sounding rumor may have actually come from another product Apple is planning to release this summer, such as a Sprint version of the iPad. While a Sprint version has yet to be officially announced, it has been speculated that Apple will bring the device to Sprint when the company is ready -- similar to the way it brought the iPhone 4 to Verizon when the exclusive deal with AT&T came to an end.

But if not, that's not necessarily a bad thing. The mere fact that Sprint will extend its unlimited coverage to LTE users is proof that the corporation is in this for the long haul. Critics frequently complain that Sprint is stupid, that the company is losing money, and that it can't offer unlimited data forever. (These people must be grandfathered in to a really great data plan with AT&T or not mind paying $120+ for iPhone calls and data.) But Sprint absolutely must continue to offer unlimited data. Most people do not have a fond view of the company. They complain about Sprint's coverage and reliability. With unlimited data, however, the problems are somewhat tolerable. While it may suck to have issues here and there (issues that not all customers encounter, mind you), the problems are much more tolerable when the monthly bill remains under $100. If that ever changes, Sprint will lose the one advantage it has over its competitors, and likely lose every customer it has left.

That's why, despite what anyone tells you, Sprint will continue to offer unlimited data for the foreseeable future. And if Sprint was going to end its unlimited data plan, I wouldn't expect it to happen during the next 18 to 24 months.

If/when that day comes, I suspect that Sprint will be nice about grandfathering in old customers without attempting to kick them off unlimited data. I actually wouldn't be surprised if the company used this policy as a marketing gimmick: "Sign up now and secure your unlimited data…before it's gone forever!" That would be one way to get a bunch of people to sign up.

Another way is, of course, the iPad. Sprint may have lost out on the current iPad (for now), but there's no reason to believe it won't acquire the fourth-generation iPad when it's released next year. By then it might be too late for Sprint to make any real progress in the tablet market since iPad sales are already beginning to peak. Plus, tablets aren't something people replace annually or bi-annually (like they do cell phones).

Those factors alone could make it worthwhile for Sprint to push for a version of the new iPad this year, even if it is a little late for consumers, and a little premature for its own 4G LTE coverage.

Unfortunately, that latter element could prevent Apple from allowing Sprint to have the iPad. In Europe, the Mac maker has gotten in trouble for promoting the new iPad as a 4G LTE device to those who can't actually use 4G LTE. Imagine the complaints Apple would receive in America if it launched the iPad on Sprint before the company launched a nationwide 4G LTE network. People would be under the impression that the iPad's 4G LTE capabilities could be experienced with Sprint regardless of their location.

Apple could end the confusion by telling consumers the full story. But if its European marketing campaign is any indication, there are some things Apple would rather not promote. Due to the aforementioned complaints, however, it might be forced to do so anyway.

Follow me @LouisBedigian


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