Analyst: Believe It, iPad Will Strain AT&T’s Network

Despite claims to the contrary from AT&T, at least one analyst says the iPad will add significant strain to the company’s much-criticized wireless network.

In a note released this week, Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. analyst Craig Moffett wrote, “AT&T seems to be convinced that most of the time users will be connected to Wi-Fi. That’s a pretty big stretch, given it’s a new device nobody’s used before.”

The Wi-Fi connection was one of the things stressed by Apple’s Steve Jobs at the unveiling event a couple of months ago and a message pushed by AT&T execs ever since, but it hasn’t convinced people like Moffett who say it’s too early to make any assumptions since the device doesn’t make its official debut until tomorrow.

AT&T has been blasted for the strain millions of iPhone users have put on its network over the past three years. Estimates show that the iPad will use about 65 percent as much network capacity as the iPhone, which wireless industry analyst Chetan Sharma says will be like adding 1.7 million more iPhones to AT&T’s network in 2010. It’s anticipated that Apple will sell 2.7 million iPads this year.

To the big telco’s credit, it’s been upgrading its 3G service around the country, particularly in large cities where dropped calls and slow data downloads have been the biggest problem.

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