Mobile phone operators in the UK are preparing to open talks with Apple in the coming days about providing 3G internet services to the new iPad device when it arrives.
Industry sources said that O2, 3, Vodafone, Orange and T-Mobile have had board-level discussions and are preparing to meet Apple "in the next week" with one denying talks had already begun. "All of the players will be speaking to Apple," another said.
Apple is expected to ship the Wi-Fi only versions of the iPad to the UK in March, while the 3G versions will go on sale in the US "and selected countries" in April.
Apple chief executive Steve Jobs said on Wednesday that the priority was to secure agreements with international operators for 3G, with deals expected by the end of July at the latest.
Apple declined to comment further than the announcement made in San Francisco, when it revealed that AT&T will be the first to offer 3G services to iPad users in the US. None of the UK operators would comment on talks with Apple yesterday.
One industry insider said the device may well be sim-only "and unlikely to be exclusive". This would mark a departure from the strategy Apple used when it brought the iPhone to the UK in 2007. It took two years for Orange to break O2's exclusive hold over the device. The following day, Vodafone announced it too would offer customers connection to the device.
The iPad, which can surf the internet, show videos, play music and display ebooks, will cost from $499 to $699 to US consumers depending on the storage size. The 3G-enabled iPads will cost between $629 to $829.
Mr Jobs said it was the company's "most advanced technology in a magical and revolutionary device", adding: "iPad creates and defines an entirely new category of devices that will connect users with their apps and content in a much more intimate, intuitive and fun way than ever before."
David Bailey, an analyst at Goldman Sachs predicted about six million iPads will be sold this year. Deloitte, the accountancy and advisory group, labelled the growing number of tablets as the "Goldilocks of devices – not too big, not too small".
Richard Holway, a founding partner of TechMarketView, said tablet computers will be "game-changing". He said it will take a while for adoption but by 2015 "nobody will have any doubts.... Today was the end of the beginning. Let the future begin."