Starting last fall, Sprint was finally able to offer the popular iPhone. But Apple’s other mobile device is still conspicuously absent: the iPad. The reason for this is almost certainly this carrier’s unique unlimited data plan.
Sprint is the only U.S. carrier that still offers a service plan that is truly unlimited, with no speed throttling or any other restrictions. This is a major competitive advantage for the company, but it’s also a potential risk — millions of customers watching a great deal of streaming video, playing online games, and web surfing to their heart’s content could clog the carrier’s data network.
So far, Sprint seems to be able to handle the traffic from its smartphone users, but tablets are another issue. Studies have shown that people with a tablet like an iPad or Galaxy Tab use about three times more data than phone users because the larger screens encourage them to perform more bandwidth-intensive tasks.
While Sprint offers four tablets, neither of its 10-inch models can connect to its cellular-data network — they are Wi-Fi only. The other two have 7-inch displays, which makes them less suited for high-bandwidth activities like mobile video.
If this carrier adds the iPad, it would have to be ready for a virtual tsunami of data usage. Customers with unlimited data plans would be able to watch movies on Netflix all day long every day, using hundreds of gigabytes of data. Add in all the web access and social networking that tablets do so well, and it’s likely Sprint could never keep up.
Even a few hundred thousand iPad users on Sprint’s network would noticeably slow wireless access down for everyone. This wouldn’t help the carrier, as it’s struggling to compete with its larger rivals Verizon and AT&T as it is.
Sprint’s upper management probably knows it. Which is why it’s staying away from Apple’s mega-popular tablet.