Sprint cleverly beats AT&T to the iPad with case for 4G hotspot gadget

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With versions of Apple’s iPads that can connect to AT&T’s 3G wireless Internet still yet to hit the market, Sprint Nextel has beat Apple to the punch by hacking together a new package and a clever marketing campaign for its 3-month-old Wi-Fi device.

Sprint is pushing the Overdrive 3G/4G Mobile Hotspot as a way to ‘experience connectivity everywhere,’ said Kathleen Dunleavy, a company spokeswoman. The 3-by-3-inch device connects to Sprint’s wireless Internet and can provide three and a half hours of Web access to as many as five devices.


If you purchase an Overdrive from certain Best Buy stores in one of Sprint’s 28 4G markets, you can get a free case designed to hold the Wi-Fi hotspot device and Apple’s iPad. Los Angeles is not among the cities where Sprint offers 4G Internet, but it’s next on the telecom’s list, along with Miami. Until then, the Overdrive will connect to Sprint’s 3G Internet where available.

Some Best Buys began doling out the Sprint 4G Case for iPad on Saturday -- two weeks after the release of the Wi-Fi iPad. The companies expect to give away more than 10,000 cases.

Meanwhile, Apple says new orders of iPads that offer AT&T’s 3G as well as Wi-Fi will ship by May 7. Those versions will cost $130 more than the currently available Wi-Fi models and also require a per-month plan that can range from $15 to $30 for AT&T Internet.

Sprint’s Overdrive costs $100 after rebates, along with a $60-per-month plan that includes unlimited 4G access and 5 gigabytes of 3G bandwidth. In other words, if you’re just planning to get the Overdrive for your iPad rather than also using it for a laptop, Sprint doesn’t have the best deal.

‘The advantage is speed because the Overdrive’s speeds are 4G,’ Dunleavy said, which, again, doesn’t yet apply to L.A. ‘It offers 10 times faster speeds than anything you can get from 3G.’

A case is nice, but let’s get 4G in Southern California already.

[Corrected, 5:13 p.m. Clarified that Apple hasn’t officially announced delays of the iPad 3G. It may still ship by the end of April.]

[Updated, April 20, 9:25 a.m. Apple announced that the iPad 3G will be available on April 30.]

-- Mark Milian