Government officials warned that the rise of Apple's iPad tablet computer could prove a threat to national infrastructure.

The iPad , coming next quarter, could bring wireless networks to a standstill as new users swarm wireless networks, an Obama administration official warned this week.

Apple's iPad announcement has set off a new round of reports of networks overburdened by a data flow they were not built to handle, said Phil Bellaria, director of scenario planning for the federal government's Omnibus Broadband Initiative.

With the iPad pointing to even greater demand for mobile broadband on the horizon, we must ensure that network congestion doesn't choke off a service that consumers clearly find so appealing or frustrate mobile broadband's ability to keep us competitive in the global broadband economy, wrote Bellaria.

Bellaria likened the iPad's debut  to AOL's decision in 1996 to offer unlimited Internet access to its users via dial-up modems.

For months, users had trouble connecting and, once they did connect, experienced frequent service outages. The FCC even held hearings on the problem, said Bellaria. The iPad features 802.11 Wi-Fi connectivity, as well as 3G cellular connections.

Bellaria said the potential for network slowdowns triggered by iPad-mania demonstrates the need for updated wireless infrastructure and regulatory policies.

Reaching an always-on wireless broadband future means that the spectrum can no longer remain attached solely to uses deemed valuable decades ago, he said. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 provides millions of dollars in funding for wireless network upgrades.

Apple CEO Steve Jobs unveiled the iPad last week. Pricing starts at $499 for the 16GB model, $599 for the 32GB model, and $699 for the 64GB version.

Analysts' sales predictions for the tablet vary widely, with many believing Apple can sell 2 million to 5 million units in the first year.