AT&T and Verizon Wireless apparently are going to have the right to sell the Apple iPad in a version that supports fourth generation networks those firms operate, the Wall Street Journal reports. Verizon, AT&T to Sell 4G iPads

The 4G iPad would use the Long Term Evolution networks both AT&T and Verizon Wireless are building, and would presumably stimulate sales of more device broadband plans.

It isn’t immediately clear whether Sprint can get its LTE network built fast enough to qualify for the devices, and T-Mobile USA would seem to be totally out of consideration, since it does not have any concrete plans to build an LTE network.

More to the point, both AT&T and Verizon Wireless would have clear business reasons for convincing Apple to restrict that LTE version of the iPad to just the two largest U.S. carriers, for some period of time, much as Apple gave AT&T a period of exclusivity on the Apple iPhone.

The decision highlights the clear importance devices now have assumed in the mobile service ecosystem.

Goldman Sachs figures tablet data consumption is increasing by 30 percent per year and by 2020 will account for 17 percent of all mobile data demand.

“We expect global tablet sales to grow over 300 percent through 2012,” Goldman’s analysts say. “Our forecast implies a 42 percent compound annual growth rate from 2010 to 2020 in network-activated tablet subscribers (tablets that actually subscribe to a wireless data plan) with monthly data usage assumed to grow at the rate of 30 percent per year from 1.5 GBytes month to over 20 GBytes per month in 2020,” Goldman analysts say.

Growing use of tablets, and families now paying for many mobile broadband subscriptions, are one reason both Verizon Wireless and At&T are getting ready to introduce new “family data plans” that allow consumers and devices registered to a single account to share a single bucket of data usage.

That implies some future adjustment of mobile broadband plans, which at present tend to cap consumption at 4Gbytes to 10 Gbytes a month, with an average of about 5 Gbytes. Though it seems unlikely that smart phone consumption will reach those levels, tablet users using mobile broadband connections might easily exceed 5 Gbytes a month, if the Goldman estimates are correct.

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