May 30, 2012 8:34 PM   Subscribe

I'm going to buy an iPad! But I'm mainly going to be using it outside of the US and I'm very confused about international 3G/4G networks. Help?

So I live in Panama, where I have meh wifi at home and no wifi at work. Though I would be perfectly okay with the limited internet access I would have with a wifi-only ipad, I'm trying to figure out if getting a 3G or 4G ipad would be worth it here, or whether I should stick with wifi only and rely more on storage than streaming. I also just read about how people in the UK got burned because it turned out the new ipad wasn't compatible with their 4G networks, and now I'm super paranoid because I don't understand a thing about cell phones.

First of all, I don't think the ipad has been released in Panama, so I will probably be ordering a US model. This means I have to pick between Verizon and AT&T and I have no idea which is better suited to Panama. I know both will take a sim card, but is there an advantage to either one? Also, would it need to be activated in any way in the US to work here? What I read seemed to say that Verizon could work on other networks but only take advantage of their 3G, nothing faster. True?

Second, there are a few providers in Panama that advertise 3G (movistar, +movil) and two that advertise 4G (Claro and Digicel). The 4G for both is HSPA+, which according to the apple store is compatible with both Verizon and AT&T iPads, yes? Or is there more to it than that? Is HSPA+ the same thing as 4G LTE? WTF do these things mean?

Third, even though the advertisements make it sound like Panama's speeds match US standards, I have a work-provided blackberry and I find that extremely hard to believe. Is it really true? I know 4G should indicate speed, but does anyone know if networks outside the US can call anything they want 4G? (sorry that's a weird question... there is really good infrastructure here, but for some reason this is still mind boggling to me. probably 'cause my internet sucks.)

Thanks everyone. Any other random ipad advice is also welcome.

(Sorry if it sounds like I keep mixing up 3G and 4G - I haven't decided whether I'm going to get a refurbished ipad2 or a new ipad, and so both are a possibility.)
posted by ke rose ne to Technology (7 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Is it an option for you to get a 3G/4G phone on a network that you know works in Panama, get the wifi-only ipad, and tether the connection?
posted by jozxyqk at 8:46 PM on May 30, 2012

The keyword you need here is "GSM". Does Panama 3G/4G do GSM? Or something else? The US AT&T iPad is GSM only. The US Verizon iPad is GSM + CDMA, but the CDMA only works on Verizon's network, as far as I know. Fair warning: I don't know what HSPA means and could be wrong about some other aspect of this.
posted by Nelson at 8:49 PM on May 30, 2012

have you thought about getting wifi only and getting a hotspot? this way you can supply internet to your other devices as well as anyone else travelling with you.
the ipads are programmed with the verizon or att software to connect and bill you, so unless those other phone carriers are partners. I don't think you can just roam on those networks. Thailand has a carrier that is partnered with T-mobile, i forgot their name, so I can just roam with my t-mobile phone when I am there. But in a neighboring country, they didnt have partners, so i had to get a local sim and put in my phone. I'm not sure about the ATT model ipad, but the verizon model doesnt have a way to just switch out a sim.
posted by udon at 8:52 PM on May 30, 2012

Oh, shit I didn't even think of that. I have a blackberry, but I just looked it up and it runs on the shittier EDGE (2G) network. I really have no plans to get another smartphone.

Just found this website and it appears that all the networks in Panama are GSM.

For clarification: I don't intend to roam from a US network, and have no cell service in the US. I live full-time in Panama.
posted by ke rose ne at 8:56 PM on May 30, 2012

It also seems to indicate that there isn't actually a 4G network here....... hmmm.
posted by ke rose ne at 8:58 PM on May 30, 2012

The GSM (AT&T in the US) version of the new iPad will fall back from LTE->3G->EDGE->GPRS. So you could get a SIM for it in Panama and rock the slower speeds until the network is upgraded.

The Verizon version will work on Verizon's LTE network in the US (but not ATT's or anyone else's on the planet) and fall back on Verizon's CDMA network in places where it can't find its network. It does have a SIM card in it (LTE requires it) and it has a GSM radio used in most places in the world as well. The key difference between the iPads is the Verizon works on Verizon's LTE frequencies and will fall back on CDMA if it can't' find that LTE signal.

If it were me, I'd get the ATT version (that's the version the Mexican nationals buy here in San Diego to use on a Mexican carrier) but you won't' get 4G (both AT&T and Verizon's LTE networks are special snowflake frequencies so it may not work even when Panama gets LTE. The LTE radios are only working in US and Canadian frequencies), but it should work on Claro's 3G network. You'll need to get a mini-SIM from the local carrier (many will have them at corporate-owned offices, or you can cut a regular sized SIM down) and look for directions like this to change your APN settings are for the network.
posted by birdherder at 9:29 PM on May 30, 2012

Oh, and the HSPA+ that technically still 3G on GSM networks but it is marketed by carriers as 4G. HSPA+ is faster than HSPA but LTE is faster than either (sort of). Since LTE is so new across the world, it will be years before we see a single radio chip that will work on most networks. For now, there' the ATT flavor, the Verizon flavor, and flavors being slowly rolled out in Europe, Asia and LatAm.
posted by birdherder at 9:33 PM on May 30, 2012

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