9 out of 10 tablet users prefer WiFi-only tablets

March 21, 2012
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In the ongoing debate about 3G vs WiFi-only slates, the verdict is finally in (at least according to industry analyst Chetan Sharma) and the results are not entirely surprising. According to his recent market update report summarizing the US wireless industry, almost 90% of consumers currently prefer WiFi-only tablets over the 3G versions. Mentioning that his chart compares U.S. 2011 sales of WiFi-only tablets against cellular-equipped versions, Sharma suggests that mobile network service providers, like AT&T, T-mobile, Verizon, and Sprint are not essential for a thriving tablet ecosystem.

There are a number of causes for this situation, of which we will discuss the following below.

COST

Most WiFi-only tablets cost around $100 less than their 3G-enabled counterparts. This figure does not include the extra cost required to subscribe to a data plan. In the United States, getting data connectivity on your tablet implies a contract for a minimum of two years. The big exception is represented by iPad users, who can opt for a month-by-month subscription from AT&T.

Sharma’s research brings up the question of the feasibility of such long term contracts. With most devices seemingly dated after only a year due to the rapid pace of hardware development, committing to a two year contract is a hard pill to swallow, and the early termination fees of hundreds of dollars don’t help either.

In addition, market studies suggest that most users are likely to leave their tablets at home. Since a lot of homes have access to WiFi Internet, the additional cost of owning a 3G-enabled tablet is simply too high for most consumers.

Data LIMITS

Most data plans will set you back $49.99 for between 2GB to 5GB ‘free’ monthly usage, with additional charges being tacked onto your bill when the limit is crossed. Only Sprint offers a truly unlimited data plan, but with a hefty price tag of 99.99 USD. These limits are in place due to bandwidth limitations, and, according to the carriers, so as ‘not to disrupt the quality of data service available to other customers.” Right.

While the reasons for these limits are understandable, they certainly seem too low. Devices on Wifi are usually connected to home broadband services. This gives the user the advantage of truly generous data limits, a 100GB being the average of amount of data available on a lot of the popular internet data plans these days.

Mobility

The only saving grace for 3G+ tablets is the mobility they offer consumers. Daily commuters nowadays prefer to ‘flip’ through newspapers available on their tablets. It also helps consumers avoid boredom on long journeys, or waiting in airports (without free Wifi available). Business professionals on the go may not have ready access to a Wifi network, and 3G connectivity enables them to have access to urgent e-mails, presentations, and documents available online. Still, it’s important to remember that elsewhere in the world, you can purchase a tablet, plug in your SIM, and you have data on the move.

Alternatives

With most high-end smartphones being 3G/4G enabled and offering a portable WiFi hotspot feature, or mobile tethering, allowing users to connect their Wifi enabled devices to use the phone’s data to connect to the internet. MiFi (Mobile WiFi) as this called, provides consumers with an alternative to requiring a 3G enabled device. This saves the user the hassle of requiring another long term contract with a carrier and also requires just one data plan subscription to run multiple devices.

Conclusion

With data speeds on the rise with the introduction of 4G LTE networks and with costs hopefully hitting a downward trend at some point in the future, this recommendation might change. But, for now, WiFi only tablets is the more logical choice. Unless carriers minimize the cost of adoption and change the contract to one year, it’s likely that this scenario is likely to continue. What say you? 3G/4G tablet with 2 year contract for $499 and a monthly fee? How does that sound?

Comments

  • LarryMao

    “3G/4G tablet with 2 year contract for $499 and a monthly fee? How does that sound?”

    Not as good as my $150 HP Touchpad running CM9, while tethered to my Droid X for online access on the go. :)

    • http://profiles.google.com/eric.soulliage eric Soulliage

      totally agree with you , 2 simcards and 2 contracts is a “over my dead bbody” thing , but being able to put my phone sim in my tab is great relief

  • Guest

    Your headlines claims people *PREFER* wifi-only devices.
    Are you sure it’s not due to tiny little things like:
    Paying $100-$200 EXTRA over an already very expensive device.
    Being forced to sign a 24 month contract… even if the service is awful.
    Paying $1000 for the connection contract over 2 years.
    Paying for an entirely separate 2nd data plan… even if you already have an existing data plan.

    Wifi is not a ‘preferred device’… it’s just too expensive otherwise.

    • Ankit

      Prefer: To choose or be in the habit of choosing as more desirable or having more value.

      Like you said, there are a number of factors that make Wifi only devices are of more value than 3G+ ones, hence people ‘prefer’ it.

      • Ankit

        make Wifi only devices of more value*

  • http://profiles.google.com/eric.soulliage eric Soulliage

    well i rarely use 3g on my gtab101 , i usually connect to my gnex phone , but knowing that if i ran out of batteries i could slip my phone simcard in my gtab is really good to know

  • Sean Clarke

    I just don’t get wifi only devices. My Galaxy Tab (original 7″ phone model) is both wifi and 3G, most of the time when I’m out its using 3G data (or Edge). I only switch to Wifi when I’m at home (and sometime not even then) or if I happen to be spending time somewhere with free wifi.

    Although for that matter I wish all tablets were also phones like my Galaxy Tab, because why would I want to carry a phone and a tablet?