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On eve of Apple iPad launch, AT&T pledges to improve network

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Paul Sakuma/AP

(Read caption) Apple CEO outlines the iPad's network capabilities Wednesday from the stage of the Yerba Buena Center in San Francisco.

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When Apple CEO Steve Jobs unveiled the iPad this week, many analysts worried that the AT&T network would be unable to handle the strain the iPad would put it. Yesterday, AT&T sought to reassure investors and consumers that the company, which has struggled to provide consistent iPhone service in many metro areas, was more than up to the task of handling the Apple iPad.

In a conference call with reporters, Chief Operating Officer John Stankey said AT&T planned to pour more than $2 billion into network infrastructure in the coming year, much of which would fund upgrades to cell sites around the country. In addition, Stankey said AT&T would add 2,000 new cell sites in order to improve network capacity.

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“We’ve got an aggressive plan to benefit everyone,” Stankey said, according to the New York Times.

Network strength is likely to be a key issue for AT&T in 2010, especially once the Apple iPad hits the market. As we wrote yesterday, AT&T is having enough trouble with the Apple iPhone, which drains 10 times the network capacity of other smart phones. The Apple iPad, billed by Jobs as the ideal device for streaming video and music, will put additional torque on the network.

Apple plans to offer a range of pricing options for the iPad. The cheapest 16GB iPad, equipped with only Wi-Fi connectivity, is being priced by Apple at $499, but many consumers are likely to opt for the $629 version, which comes with a 3G connection. AT&T is offering a two-tiered pricing system for the 3G model: 250MB for $14.99 a month or unlimited access for $29.99 per month.

Check out our iPad coverage page for more on the new tablet, and drop us a line in the comments section or on Twitter.