The Apple iPad (first generation) works on 850 MHz and 2100 MHz WCDMA bands. We have two mobile operators offering 3G in New Zealand, with a third one coming very soon.
Telecom New Zealand operates a 3G network in the 850 MHz band. Telecom does not operate a 2G network - wherever you get coverage it will be 3G.
Vodafone New Zealand operates a mix of 2G and 3G networks. It also operates a 3G network in two different bands, that is 900 MHz and 2100 MHz. Vodafone deployed 2100 MHz 3G in the main centres and larger towns, covering 70% of the population. The 900 MHz 3G band is available elsewhere.
This means that if you have an iPad and use Telecom New Zealand then you will have 3G access wherever you have Telecom XT coverage, because Telecom operates a 850MHz which is compatible with the iPad 850MHz 3G.
If you insert a Vodafone New Zealand SIM on the same iPad you will have 3G coverage only in its 2100 MHz 3G network. It means that where Vodafone offers the 900MHz 3G flavour you will be out of luck. Depending on coverage the iPad may operate in the much slower 2G (GPRS) network. How much slower? Think dial-up speeds, with much higher latency.
The maps below tell the story:
Telecom New Zealand 3G coverage page:
Vodafone New Zealand 3G coverage page (remember to check only 3G, not 3G extended):
Obviously coverage changes over time, so make sure you visit their coverage pages to check the current status.
If you are using Orcon Mobile, your 3G coverage will be similar to Vodafone New Zealand, because Orcon uses Vodafone for their network.
When 2degrees Mobile launch their 3G service, total coverage will be similar to that of Vodafone New Zealand, because while 2degrees has their own network in Auckland, Christchurch, Queenstown and Wellington, the rest of the country will be serviced by a roaming agreement with Vodafone New Zealand.
UPDATE: you can see both 3G coverage in a larger image here.
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