Media coverage of a report from IDC Research says sales of Wi-Fi only tablets have passed sales of 3G models in Australia and New Zealand.

IDC’s analyst explained the shift away from mobile networks to Wi-Fi in terms of product offerings. This misses the point: for most people 3G tablets don’t make sense.

3G option is costly

Adding 3G, and now with the new iPad, 4G to an Apple tablet adds NZ$200 to the price. For  the 16GB iPad, that’s a hefty 27% premium. For that kind of money, you need to know you’ll use that tablet while on the move.

To use mobile data you also need a Micro-Sim card and a mobile data account with a carrier. Make that an extra Sim card and account unless you don’t have a mobile phone.

3G is troublesome

When I bought my iPad 2 I decided this would be too much trouble. I might only need to use 3G with my iPad once or twice a month and I didn’t want to deal with extra Sim cards and mobile accounts.

Instead, if I need a 3G iPad connection while I’m on the move I use my mobile phone as a Wi-Fi hub. That way my phone account picks up the data cost.

I’m not likely to travel anywhere with my iPad and not take my phone as well.

Phone Wi-Fi hub fast enough

I haven’t benchmarked speeds on my iPad and phone combination against an 3G iPad alternative because the comparison is not important. My set up is more than fast enough for my everyday needs, the only drawback is using my phone as a Wi-Fi hub drains the batteries faster than normal use.

This approach means less administration and it consolidates all my data buying in a single account which means economies of scale.

If you’re always on the run and need plenty of data a 3G tablet might make more sense, for most users it doesn’t.

For a while I also tried separate Wi-Fi hub devices, but these made life even harder. The need feeding with Sim cards, phone accounts and batteries. They also meant carrying an extra device.

6 thoughts on “Why Wi-Fi-only trumps 3G on tablets

  1. It makes sense on Kindle – the 3G support includes free lifetime data. You’re not so much talking about tablets as iPads.

    • Interesting point there. I’d classify the iPad, Android, Windows 8 devices and even the Blackberry Playbook as tablets, while the Kindle sits in a separate ebook category.

  2. Hi Bill, I would have thought that using mobile data was a key aspect of iPad use. However I tek your point about the $200 extra cost in NZ. I have a 3G data stick from 2 Degrees $20nz for 1Gb for 30 days now seems like a good price point. The helpful staff at 2 degrees say there is a way I can have a micro-sim off my data stick for an iPad. I have seen some people actually use scissors to cut the sims into shape – not sure I understand that but seems like a micro sim might be as as easy as getting a sharp pair of scissors?

    I also have 1Gb of mobile data on my phone which is way more than I can use given the battery life. I don’t use icloud because of the lack of WiFi around most of the places I work but the data stick is fairly good and I’m tempted by the mobile dream.

    • I agree mobile data is key to the iPad. It turns out those always-on-the-move types who need an iPad with built-in 3G are a much smaller segment of the market than Apple or the telcos anticipated.

      For casual users like me – I might haul my iPad into town once or twice a month – when you add up the numbers the additional up-front cost plus the cost of feeding another Sim card don’t make sense. A 2degrees-style prepay data approach is fine, but most of us carry our phones anyway – the evidence says we almost all do – and those phones can act as Wi-Fi hubs.

  3. I realise this is an old post, but I avoided 3G due to not wanting an extra data account, but wanting the mobility of 3G on a tablet. 2 Degrees has answered this with shared data. If only the other telcos did the same. I know it won’y happen soon, but shared data is the way to go.

    • I had to check the rules and prices for 2degrees’ shared data. As you say, it appears to go a long way to solving the problem and it’s free until April, which is good.

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