We've opined before about how WiFi can sometimes be the elephant in the telecoms room that nobody notices, but dramatic facts are starting to change that. Such as: 9 out of 10 tablets sold in the US are WiFi-only. Why does everyone seem mildly surprised? By Ian Scales.
According to a report released this week by Chetan Sharma of Chetan Sharma Consulting only 1 in 10 tablets sold uses a cellular connection. Instead, users clearly find that the 'nomadic' nature of tablet use (as opposed to the always-connected mobility we require of a mobile phone) means that more cost-effective (and usually better-performing) WiFi ticks all the boxes.
Tablets are a 'carry then use' proposition and that means that in most circumstances - in the home, office or coffee shop - WiFi is both available and more or less cost-free whenever we want to break out the tablet and do whatever it is we use it for.
No surprises then that users are behaving in an utterly predictable and economically rational way and not bothering to include cellular at purchase time - especially as it can cost upwards of US$100 to add it in. And then there is the data plan.
As the Sharma report points out, most operators still insist on tablet users (if they have cellular) contracting a full-cost two year data plan while at the same preventing them from 'tethering' their tablets to their phones to share the data plan they already have (most tablet owners are already smartphone owners).
Take all this, together with all the 'noises off' about the supposed data flood tablets are set to create for operators and thus grind their networks to a halt (when in fact the majority of 3G data is still generated from PC dongles), and it's not surprising that users are saying thanks but no thanks to a data plan... except.
If data service could be had at reasonable terms and conditions, many users would snap them up because even the most organised tablet user can find they have irksome coverage gaps as they dash from coffee shop to work (say). Finishing that email on the train would be well worth the dollar one-off cost - if such a service were available.
"Operators who start to bundle multiple devices by single data plans and data buckets are going to see a better yield in this category," says Sharma.
The alternative scenario is that tablet users find those coverage gaps shrinking to virtually nothing as WiFi coverage fans out and new hotspot standards make the log-on process transparent. Then they may not be bothered about getting a cell plan at any price.
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