The new iPad: How fast will it surf the web in the UK?

The new iPad has been announced. It comes with 4G data technology and promises "super-fast" web surfing, according to Apple CEO Tim Cook. Sounds amazing doesn't it? Well, if you are in America, it does and will be but, in the UK, we don't have a 4G network. So how is that going to work out? Largely speaking, it isn't.

Customers snapping up a new iPad 4G in the UK will have to rely on good old-fashioned 3G instead, but it's not quite as simple as that. You see, there's 3G and there's 3G. Under that banner of mobile broadband there are quite a few variations of 3G speed within the UK. The operators all offer different levels ranging from slow 3G to quick 3G and, if you're really lucky, even quicker 3G. Some of it's so quick that it's almost at 4G rates.

At the top end of the speed scale you have 42Mbps with it slowly cascading down through 28.8Mbps to 14.4Mbps to 7.2Mbps. To put that gobbledygook into perspective, the current iPad 2 has a top speed of 14.4Mbps. Apple has confirmed that the new iPad Wi-Fi + 4G - yes, yes, ignore the handle, it really is just the Apple 3G here in the UK - will offer 3G connection speeds up to 42Mbps or DC-HSDPA as it is professionally known.

Now, that's quick but it's still not as quick as the 100Mbps 4G offers in other countries, though it is getting there. The real question, of course, is whether any of the operators in the UK can actually offer these kinds of speeds on their networks or it is marketing gone mad? Is surfing fast on the iPad always going to be a figment of Brits' imaginations?

Pocket-lint spoke to each of the major mobile service providers in the UK - Everything Everywhere (Orange and T-Mobile), Vodafone, O2, and Three - to see just how fast you can you surf the new iPad on their networks when it comes out on 16 March. This is what they said.

Vodafone (1st: up to 28.8Mbps)

Vodafone has varying network speeds depending on where you are in the country. Talking to Pocket-lint, the operator confirmed that if you are in a major UK city you should be able to surf the internet on the new iPad at speeds of up to 28.8Mbps. That's almost twice the speed you can currently surf on the iPad 2.

"iPad users will see a noticeable difference in download speeds," Vodafone told Pocket-lint.

Come out of the major cities and Vodafone tells us that speed capabilities will go down to 21.1Mbps in most towns and cities in the UK and coming out of those towns even further and the networks slows down further still to just 14.4Mbps.

O2 (2nd= up to 21.1Mbps)

O2, like Everything Everywhere, is currently running 4G trials in London, but don't let that fool you into thinking you can get a faster American 4G iPad. It won't work.

What you will get, however, is faster speeds than you do currently with the iPad 2. On the O2 network, every major city will have 21.1Mbps signal strenght (also know as HSPA+).

As for 42Mbps, O2 doesn't currently offer those speeds, but has told Pocket-lint that most of the infrastructure is there and it is constantly upgrading the network but isn't offering that connectivity speed at moment.

"We are planning on upgrading the network to 42Mbps" O2 told Pocket-lint.

Three (2nd= up to 21.1Mbps)

According to Three, "Currently around 70 per cent of our network is HSPA+ 21Mbps" and it is in the "process of finalising our plans to roll out 42Mbps" with the goal of rolling out the new capabilities in the summer nationwide.

Those who live in the M3 corridor and south-west London might be lucky enough to get it early, as Three has confirmed to Pocket-lint. That is where it is testing the new tech and anyone in that area might be able to enjoy the benefits unofficially.

Like O2 and Everything Everywhere, Three is also running its own long term evolution (LTE) trial in the next few months, although, as a new iPad owner, you won't be able to benefit regardless of what they do. The reason is that the portion of the UK spectrum set aside for LTE is a very different frequency from that used for the same technology in the States and, more importantly, the UK frequencies are not compatible with the new iPad.

Everything Everywhere (2nd= up to 21.1Mbp)

According to Everything Everywhere, 60 per cent of the network will offer complete 21Mbps connectivity by the end of September 2012 in the UK, although it is not clear how much coverage it currently offers on iPad launch day.

"It will deliver an estimated 50 per cent increase in data download speeds (and up to 100% faster for upload of pictures, music and video) for customers with compatible devices, allowing them to take traditionally fixed-line activities, such as HD video streaming, on the move," the company said to us in a statement.

Like other UK operators, it too is starting trials of HSPA+ 42. These are due to begin in any month now with a goal to roll out the technology to customers before Christmas.

Caveat

Do bear in mind that these quotes for data speeds are often highly theoretical. They represent maximum download rates which will be hugely effected by issues of capacity on the cell site in which you're operating as well as your distance from the antenna itself. In major cities, where the possible speeds are greatest, you're never going to be the only person using data at that site on that network. So, whichever network you choose, do appreciate that your speeds will most likely be far less in reality.

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