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Bill Bennett


Tablets: all about Wi-Fi, not cellular

Tablet wi-fi cellular landscape

Wi-Fi-only tablets outnumber cellular connected models by roughly 10-to-1.

We can argue about the exact ratio. The graph above shows data collected by US-based analyst Chetan Sharma up to the end of 2011. It shows a slight movement from Wi-Fi-only to 3G connected models – a trend which may have accelerated since then. And Sharma’s numbers are American – things may be a little different here in New Zealand.

While America has proportionately more free public access Wi-Fi hotspots than New Zealand, I suspect the overall pattern here is much the same.

Wi-Fi in all the right places

It makes sense. Most connected homes now have Wi-Fi, so do many offices. When you’re out and about there are plenty of coffee shops offering free or low-cost wireless connections.

Mobile data is great for smartphones. Most people use their phones while on the move and have the devices permanently switched on. Tablets are mainly used intermittently, for most of us the benefits of a 3G – hopefully soon a 4G – cellular connection are not as compelling.

Big savings from Wi-Fi only

It costs about NZ$200 more to buy a 3G-equipped Apple iPad than one with just Wi-Fi. In the case of today’s bottom-of-the-range model that’s a premium of more than 30%. Add to that the cost of feeding its Sim card and the sheer administrative hassle of dealing with an extra mobile account. This all adds up to a lot more cost for not much gain.

Most of us carry a mobile phone where-ever we go. At a guess I’d say for almost every tablet owner, that phone will be a smartphone.

Smartphones can easily act as a mobile Wi-Fi hotspot. So on the rare occasion when you find yourself needing a tablet connection and there’s no handy coffee shop, you can link your tablet to the internet using your phone. this is simple.

It may cost you extra to do this in the US, here in New Zealand there’s no extra charge. You will need to pay for the data consumed by your phone, but there’s no need for an extra Sim card or mobile account.

So, unless you have a specific need for 3G, buy a Wi-Fi only tablet and put the money you save towards a better smartphone.



4 thoughts on “Tablets: all about Wi-Fi, not cellular

  1. Having just come back from a trip in the US, everywhere has free Wifi, it really is astounding. I had planned on getting a US sim but didn’t end up needing one as I was able to find Wifi at every location (even on a flight across the US!)

    1. I often see the flip side of this when visiting Americans or Poms are surprised to learn Auckland has so few free Wi-Fi hotspots.

  2. I agree re using the hotspot from a mobile phone to feed an iPad. It’s worked well for me. It’s also useful for connecting a wifi-only Kindle.

    1. My favourite point about tethering a tablet to a phone is only one Sim, only one account. I found trying to manage multiple cards quickly turned into an administration nightmare and I usually only consumed a fraction of the mobile data I’d paid for (OK maybe a large fraction, but certainly nothing like all of it).

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