New iPad LTE and HSPA+ radio tests

New iPad LTE and HSPA+ radio tests

The new iPad brings with it the option for a new, dual radio that brings with it 72Mbps LTE on AT&T and Verizon in the US and Rogers, Telus, and Bell in Canada. Sadly, there's no international LTE support for Australia, Asia, or Europe yet, perhaps due to the differences in LTE segments around the world. However, the new iPad also brings a new 42Mbps HSPA+ radio for AT&T, Canadian, and international carriers that support it. (Technically dual 21Mbps HSPA+ radios.) Those are theoretical speeds though -- what you get in a lab when alone, sitting on top of a tower. In the real world we're often lucky to see half the theoretical speeds, and often considerably less. That's why we put them to the test.

New iPad radios specs

The new iPad supports the following cellular radio frequencies:

  • 4G LTE at 700, 2100 MHz
  • UMTS/HSPA/HSPA+/DC-HSDPA at 850, 900, 1900, 2100 MHz
  • GSM/EDGE at 850, 900, 1800, 1900 MHz
  • CDMA EV-DO Rev. A (800, 1900 MHz); UMTS/HSPA/HSPA+/DC-HSDPA (850, 900, 1900, 2100 MHz); GSM/EDGE (850, 900, 1800, 1900 MHz)

New iPad LTE and HSPA+ speed tests

LTE is a powerhouse, likely faster than many home broadband connections. HSPA+ is no slouch either when it comes to downloads, though uploads are disappointing.

I took the new iPad out to a local coffee shop to see what type of real-world results I could get. The first thing I did was load up the SpeedTest.net app [free - Download now] app and run it 3 times on LTE to make sure I was getting consistent results. I've gotten close to 50Mbps before, both with an LTE stick and with the new iPad on launch day, but these tests had me hitting almost 30Mbps down and over 10Mbps up consistently. (On 2 bars of LTE, for whatever that's worth.)

You can quickly turn off LTE with a flip of a toggle switch in Settings, and the handoff is extremely smooth and quick -- the LTE indicator goes off and the 3G (or 4G on AT&T... sigh) comes on. I repeated the same test 3 times, and averaged around 15Mbps down and 0.75Mbps up. I've only ever gotten between 5 and 8Mbps down on the iPad 2 or iPhone 4S, so that new HSPA+ down (HSPDA) really is much faster. The upload speed really wasn't great though. (On 4 bars of HSPA+.)

Now switching back from HSPA+ to LTE has proven to be a problem for me. I don't know if it's because I have really strong 3G and really weak LTE, so once the radio gets a taste of that stronger signal it won't let go, but even if I cycle LTE on and off, cellular data on and off, or Airplane Mode off or on, LTE just won't come back. All I can do is wait for a while (several minutes) for it to "find" LTE again, or power cycle and get it back after reboot.

(If you've tested the LTE to HSPA+ handoff, share your experience, so we can better figure it out.)

New iPad LTE and HSPA+ HD video test

Avengers Assemble! To test out HD video streaming over LTE, which worked flawlessly, and HSPA+, which did not.

After the reboot, I put the LTE radio to a more real-world test -- streaming the Avengers movie trailer in HD. (I could have gone with Prometheus but Avengers had a Hulk...) It worked flawlessly. The trailer began to play almost immediately and never once stopped or stuttered. The download indicator stayed well ahead of the play indicator the whole time. It was as good as being on Wi-Fi. Fast Wi-Fi.

HSPA+ didn't do nearly as well. The trailer started playing almost immediately but also came to a screeching halt almost immediately as well. The download indicator limped ahead, but at no time did it race the way LTE did.

Apple might send lower resolution or lower bit-rate video to slower connections, so I'm not sure HSPA+ was even taking the same load, but either way, it wasn't up to the task.

Like the previous tests, I repeated each 3 times for consistency, and also drove around and tried them in several other locations, though I haven't gotten more than 2 bars of LTE, and in some places I haven't been able to connect to LTE at all.

Conclusion

Overall, however, both the new LTE and the new HSPA+ antennas in the new iPad are impressive, the LTE most of all. If always connected, on-the-go internet is important to you, and you live, work, and travel to places with LTE coverage, you want this.

Addenda for Verizon LTE

Something to keep in mind for those considering the new iPad on Verizon LTE -- while the AT&T and Canadian LTE models fall back on the impressive (for downloads at least) HSPA+, the Verizon model falls back on the anemic EVDO Rev. A, which averages 2 or 3Mbps. I wouldn't even attempt to play an HD trailer over that. I'd wait to get back to Wi-Fi. It would probably take less time.

Rene Ritchie

Editor-in-Chief of iMore, co-host of Iterate, Debug, Review, The TV Show, Vector, ZEN & TECH, and MacBreak Weekly podcasts. Cook, grappler, photon wrangler. Follow him on Twitter and Google+.

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There are 25 comments. Add yours.

GabrielEF#AC says:

Verizon forever, I don't care about HSPA+ vs. EVDO Rev. A.

Daniel says:

You will care if you ever go abroad or want to change network.

Dustin says:

Umm, the Verizon model works internationally on HSPA+

Blue says:

Try leaving a major city and tell us how that works out for ya. :)

9thwonder says:

Why in God's name would you ever want to leave a major city? :)
Seriously though, I haven't left a major city in three years. And that was a trip to Vegas where i had to drive through the desert. I got reception the whole way though not that i was making was trying to use data while driving. Even when i left my current city i flew from one major city to another major city. The only time i didn't get data was when i was on the plane.
I'm all for faster data though so i'm not saying it's a unimportant. Just not outside of major cities for me. lol.

SCY says:

You'll care when you are outside of an LTE area...needless to say I'd switch to Verizon if I didn't have a grandfathered unlimited plan

Jess says:

You mean 3 gigs then throttled?

9thwonder says:

i'd love to get 2 mbps on Sprint. Seriously.

frog says:

I'm seeing 20Mbps typical download speeds on new iPad in Australia. Though only 60% of the network supports those speeds, and I'm told most networks worldwide don't...

FlopTech says:

Wow. Thanks for the review Rene. Now, if only AT&T, Verizon et al would roll out LTE faster.... (And if only the real 4G would hurry up and come out of the lab...)

9thwonder says:

1.5 Mbps!!!! in LA on a sprint 4s! Just did that test. Oh joy! and that's the top end. lol Though though it is 1:33 AM on a sunday so not exactly peak time.

Carolinamic says:

LTE looks like the only way to go.

dloveprod says:

Verizon is super fast, your data will disappear just the same. It's so good but at the same time so bad. The data caps are the devil.

joshrocker says:

I agree and its the main reason I'm not getting the LTE version. I understand the need for caps but they need to be something more realistic. Something like 10 gigs would probably be enough to guarantee people weren't abusing it while at the same time allowing people to use the device without worrying so much about overages.

Tojasonhoo says:

My AT&T "3G" always runs 2-3 Mbps. Verizon just expanded LTE into east Texas. Can't wait to switch if throttling continues.

Tojasonhoo says:

That is normal unthrottled speed for me.

cardfan says:

I'm not seeing the joys of hspa+ on AT&T. We've had 3G for a few years now and while impressive then, it's gotten worse. Most speedtests are like 1mb or often half that. Upload is around .5mb. In Louisville where it's "4G", downloads are usually 1-3mbps. This is on the iphone 4S.
This was great a long time ago and certainly better than the competition but AT&T sucks big time now (though not as much as Sprint). Maybe it's a location thing but my opinion is written in stone now.
I got a Verizon ipad, and even on 3G, at least the data is more reliable. LTE rocks. Heck, even in verizon's extended 3G/4G networks, it's much better than AT&T. Can't wait to dump AT&T altogether when the iphone 5 launches.

cardfan says:

Just to be clear, it's not the decreased speeds on AT&T that make it stink as much as how often i get no data at all no matter how many bars I have. But i do think they have throttled whole areas. In one area I go to all the time, speeds used to be around 2-3mbps all the time. Those were the times i could sing songs about how great AT&T was. This is when decisions are made to sign contracts or take back.
Since Nov or so, i can't get above .5-1mb to save my life, if i can connect at all. This was over 4 or 5 different devices so it's definitely them.
Bottom line, I do not trust AT&T any longer. Not that i trust any carriers, but AT&T is certainly the low point.

max_rulz says:

I thought it was only me that saw areas that seemed to get speeds reduced by a lot. Problem is the area I saw it in is where i live and work. AT&T used to rock. Now it sucks.

onlineboypr says:

Rene, once you turn off LTE u need to wait at least 5 minutes to have back LTE this is for all devices with LTE... Or reboot like u said there is no workaround this yet....

dloveprod says:

I turned mine off yesterday while I was out by the time I got back home it was on again. I don't know what happened.

Whatever says:

Speak for yourself. Verizon LTE devices switch between EVDO and LTE within seconds. Even on the iPad. No waiting more than 5 seconds for me.

Will says:

"...I could have gone with Prometheus but Avengers had a Hulk..."
And with that line, I learn a new and profound respect for Rene.

9thwonder says:

Prometheus Trailer is Siiiiiiiiick!!!

Jutta Galofaro says:

If it were not for Petplan my little Midge might not be here today. Thanks again. I am spreading the word on how responsive petplan has been.