WiFi and baseband

In our iPad 2 preview I speculated that Apple might have moved entirely to Qualcomm for the iPad 2 baseband, and the most likely guess was to the same Qualcomm MDM6x00 used in the Verizon iPhone. Turns out that I was only partially right. Looking at the difference in weight between the Verizon and AT&T models on the Apple website should've been the dead giveaway, but I initially suspected the reason was more area dedicated to power amps for the GSM/UMTS version. 


Black RF window at the top, even on a white iPad.

The Verizon iPad 2 shares the same Qualcomm MDM6600 baseband as the Verizon iPhone 4. The AT&T (GSM/UMTS) iPad 2 on the other hand uses the same Infineon, ...errr Intel X-Gold 618 baseband as the GSM/UMTS iPhone 4. It's interesting to see Apple using two different basebands when one could have covered both CDMA2000/EVDO and GSM/UMTS, and faster HSPA at that rate. The X-Gold 618 just isn't super impressive anymore in a world dominated by HSDPA 14.4 and 21.1 compatible basebands. That said, it's a welcome improvement from the X-Gold 608 shared between the iPhone 3G, 3GS and GSM/UMTS iPad, which lacked HSUPA entirely, and thus had a maximum upstream rate of 384 kbps (UMTS speeds). 

GSM/UMTS (AT&T) iPad 2 - Network Support
GSM/EDGE Support 850 / 900 / 1800 / 1900 MHz
UMTS/HSDPA/HSUPA Support 850 / 900 / 1900 / 2100 MHz
HSDPA/HSUPA Speeds 7.2 Mbps / 5.76 Mbps
Baseband Hardware Infineon/Intel X-GOLD 618

CDMA (Verizon) iPad 2 - Network Support
CDMA2000-1xEV-DO 800 / 1900 MHz
Theoretical Downstream/Upstream 3.1 Mbps / 1.8 Mbps
Baseband Hardware Qualcomm MDM6600

The cellular enabled versions of the iPad 2 still are easily picked out by the black plastic strip at the top which is an RF window. Curiously, the color of the RF window is black even on the white iPad models, which seems a bit un-Apple. Maybe black made more sense since white plastic might eventually show some discoloration. Through testing the window seems to also be used for WiFi in addition to cellular. The GSM/UMTS version has a microSIM slot and comes with a SIM ejector tool in the package.

 

I found the microSIM incredibly difficult to eject on my AT&T iPad 2 compared to every other iDevice. You have to insert the ejector tool normal to the curved surface, which ends up being at an angle of nearly 45 degrees with respect to the back surface. It isn't how I expected things to work, and the tray itself is a bit awkward. 

I carried around the AT&T version of the iPad 2 and ran over 150 speedtests using Ookla's speedtest.net application. I averaged throughput of 2.76 Mbps down and 802 kbps up, with latency of 390 ms. Anand carried around the Verizon version and saw downstream speeds averaging 872 kbps down, 434 kbps up, and latency of 382 ms. 

3G Speed Comparison - Speedtest.net to best host
Provider / Data Verizon - (EVDO) AT&T - (UMTS/HSPA)
Max Downstream 1.679 Mbps 6.135 Mbps
Average Downstream 0.872 Mbps 2.759 Mbps
Max Upstream 0.837 Mbps 1.635 Mbps
Average Upstream 0.434 Mbps 0.802 Mbps
Average Latency 382 ms 390 ms
Minimum Latency 298 ms 239 ms

Pricing between the two providers is interesting. It appears that Verizon was careful to not compete with AT&T at the same data package points, instead targeting data packages other than the two 256 MB and 2 GB bundles AT&T already offers. At the same time, pricing at 3 GB on Verizon is exactly where you'd wind up should you run over 2 GB on AT&T and incur the automatic $10.00 overage charge. Interestingly enough, whereas AT&T bills you automatically when you run over your data caps, Verizon simply stops and lets you add more data before the billing cycle ends. It's an interesting distinction, certainly competition is good. In addition, there doesn't appear to be any activation charge for either AT&T or Verizon. 

3G Enabled USAiPad 2 Data Plan Pricing
Provider Verizon (CDMA2000/EVDO) AT&T (GSM/UMTS)
250 MB NA $14.99 / mo - $14.99 for each additional 250 MB
1 GB $20.00 / mo NA
2 GB NA $25.00 / mo -$10 for each additional GB
3 GB $35.00 / mo NA
5 GB $50.00 / mo NA
10 GB $80.00 / mo NA

So which of the two is the one to get in the US? Ultimately the decision about which is "better" is really a function of local coverage profile, speeds, and how much data you use (which will determine your pricing). If you're an iPad 1 AT&T user and used unlimited, you also have the option of grandfathering it in for some time as well. Unless you’re in an overloaded metropolitan area, AT&T 3G data speeds are undeniably faster. At the same time, Verizon has more EVDO coverage that, while slower, is generally more consistent. Verizon’s pricing also includes heavier data numbers than AT&T does, so if you’re looking for something to completely replace a notebook with and intend to not use WiFi, that’s a fairly big draw. 

Speaking of data use, I find the fact that the “Post PC” era includes implicit data caps (neither Verizon nor AT&T offer any unlimited data iPad packages to new customers) somewhat disturbing. I burned through just shy of 1 GB of my 2 GB AT&T plan in 3 days of use. By the time I got finished writing everything on my review sections, I had already used more than half.

 

Words cannot express my frustration - nay, rage - at the telecom industry's calculated assault on unlimited data plans, first in the mobile space, and now alarmingly with terrestrial DSL. Glass caps on both have always existed (200 or 250 GB for cable, 5 GB for essentially all mobile), but unless you clearly were abusing it, nothing happened. This move to tiered billing is a much more alarming trend. The above screenshot coupled with my use patterns (I have under 37 MB per day for the rest of the month? HA!) is precisely why I can't possibly see myself using the iPad 2 on a day to day basis. I hate watching a meter, but at least I do it. The problem isn't so much the number so much as the psychological effect of knowing you're eventually going to run into the celing. 

WiFi

The iPad 2 uses the exact same 802.11a/b/g/n WiFi + Bluetooth 2.1 EDR stack as its predecessor - the BCM4329. Like the iPad 1, the iPad 2 has 65 Mbps (long guard interval, 20 MHz channel, 1 spatial stream) 802.11n support on both 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz. Essentially WiFi speeds and behavior close to the AP is exactly the same as it was before. I’ve seen other WiFi stacks on mobile devices with “802.11n” support provide short guard interval 20 MHz rates of 72 Mbps, but nothing above, yet, so it’s fair to say that the iPad 2 WiFi authentication rate is about par with the competition. That said, Bluetooth 3.0 is already here on a bunch of other devices. 

WiFi Performance

Unfortunately, WiFi range on the iPad 2 is noticeably less than its predecessor, and throughput slows down much earlier on the iPad 2 than it does on the iPad 1. I tested with a WiFi - 3G (AT&T) model and found that I’m able to make it further away from the AP by a good 10 meters or so, but throughput even after you drop one WiFi bar on the iPad 1 is continually better than on the iPad 2. 

WiFi throughput also tells a similar story, it just isn’t quite as good as its predecessor. It’s a bit unfortunate since Apple certainly could’ve used this refresh opportunity to be the first to introduce a two spatial stream 802.11n device.

For now, the wrap up with regards to the iPad 2’s WiFi performance is that close to the AP, things are just like they used to be. At the edge of WiFi coverage, the iPad 1 edges out the iPad 2 at maintaining higher negotiated throughput and actual speeds. 

 

Apple's foray into iPad cases - Smart Covers Display Analysis
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  • jalexoid - Saturday, March 19, 2011 - link

    The movie editing app on Honeycomb is there. And it's similar to iMovie.
    The Office look alike apps on iPad are still not good.

    Honeycomb struggles on the apps side, because the developer hardware was not there, when it was needed.
    But saying "So far only iOS has the most real apps" is a bit incorrect.
    Reply
  • WaltFrench - Sunday, March 20, 2011 - link

    “The movie editing app on Honeycomb is … similar to iMovie.”

    Yes, except for one thing: the YouTube of it shows it unable to show thumbnails properly and balky, rough animations. This wouldn't even get bronze at a beer-fueled coding contest.

    The two are exactly as similar as night and day: they live on the same planet.
    Reply
  • Zoomer - Saturday, March 19, 2011 - link

    >>Also, when you take it out in front of a client during a lunch meeting, it tends to impress them.

    That's probably why most buy it.
    Reply
  • Azethoth - Sunday, March 20, 2011 - link

    I bought my iPad to turn my daily NY Times habit at Starbucks paperless. So Wi-Fi only and one year = it paid for itself.

    Acting as an awesome controller for my home stereo setup is a total bonus. Same with reading books again via iBooks and Kindle.

    Yes, the underlying thing is I use it to consume and not to create. Unless you find an application that uses its strength in that regard it will just frustrate you as you try to do your pad-inappropriate netbook / laptop / PC / mini / mainframe or whatever apps on it.

    For me its a perfect way to avoid the netbooks / laptops which I have always loathed but get a little mobility. But then I only create on a desktop with 2560 x 1600 resolution so laptops will never cut it anyway.
    Reply
  • synaesthetic - Sunday, March 20, 2011 - link

    It's pretty refreshing to see someone who has actually found a usable niche for these things.

    It's just not too useful to a lot of folks. I carry my laptop to class already--yeah, this big, heavy MSI gaming laptop--because I need it. If I could carry something as light as the iPad and have it do what I need... I'd be sold.

    But it can't. And LCDs suck for long reading sessions. I'd rather have an ereader.
    Reply
  • doobydoo - Sunday, March 20, 2011 - link

    what is it you can't do on an ipad? Reply
  • LaughingTarget - Tuesday, April 19, 2011 - link

    Quite a bit, really. It's a lousy drafting platform. Don't try doing anything remotely related to engineering on it. Want to create a proprietary program to tie into your own business systems at work? Don't bother, you're not putting that thing on your iPad without Apple's permission. Don't bother trying to type anything lengthy up on the thing, you'll be operating, at best, on about 1/4 speed as a keyboard. It's a useless tool for accountants, field technicians needing to keep track of customer data, worthless for engineers trying to troubleshoot a power plant turbine on-site. Hell, it's even a horrible method of ringing up orders at a fast food joint.

    Go down the list of what people do for a living, the meat of the modern global economy, and you pretty much found everything the iPad can't do.
    Reply
  • kevith - Sunday, March 20, 2011 - link

    Use it as an E-reader?

    Well, only for books, that the the censors at Macintosh find good, clean and familyfriendly enough, that is.

    "When You start burning books, You will eventually end up burning people."

    That fact does not change over time...
    Reply
  • WaltFrench - Sunday, March 20, 2011 - link

    Let's be a bit more honest here: Heine was talking about government-sanctioned political violence, not commercial decisions. In fact, the considerations are almost exactly opposite.

    Commercial decisions have dozens of considerations, including authors' willingness to grant rights (e.g., Nabokov's Pale Butterfly not in any e-form), format (the wonderful Visualizing Information, also MIA) and a host of others. Freedom of speech implies the speaker's right to choose when and how he speaks; that means Apple's right to make commercial decisions about what it offers and what it does not.

    E.g., Apple no longer sells a camera, but they don't in any way restrict your ability to buy them or use them. Re books: if you like Kindle, for example, read them on the iPad. (As long as Amazon chooses to carry the work.) This is just like say, the B&N store across from my office: they don't carry titles they don't want, whether for expected lousy sales, or to keep the local Bigots United chapter from waving pitchforks at them. This freedom of Apple, which is NOT an arm of the US Government, to have its own voice, is just as important as preventing governments from banning speech.

    Maybe there is somebody at Apple who wants to treat you like a child. But about a hundred times more likely is that they simply want to do the stuff they think they do best, and some people act (childlishly!) as if Apple should run by different principles.

    PS: “Macintosh” is not the company you're talking about.
    Reply
  • vision33r - Saturday, March 19, 2011 - link

    The last thing you want is bring that $899 device in front of people and have app crashes and App drawer that doesn't work when you press it like a zillion times.

    People at work will just say you blow $899 on a netbook.

    Yes, the LCD on the Xoom is the typical 10.1" you found on Acer Netbook parts bin.

    How dare Motorola try to pass off a netbook for $899. How about the ASUS EEE Slate for $999 instead.
    Reply

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