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AT&T reckons it’s the end for WiFi-only tablets, might be slightly biased

by Doug Drinkwater

May 9 2012

An AT&T executive said yesterday that falling 3G costs could push tablet manufacturers into dropping WiFi-only tablets, a view which is perhaps tainted by the fact it comes from a mobile carrier which would profit from any such trend.

As outlined by a handful of researchers, consumers often opt for a WiFi-only tablet over a 3G model, and this is almost certainly down in part to the hefty $100-plus premium which consumers can expect to pay to gain a tablet with the ubiquitous connectivity offered by a 3G or 4G network. The relatively pricey data plans (which tend to start around $15) are also likely to have an effect too.

However, according to Glenn Lurie, president of emerging devices at AT&T, that is all about to change. Speaking in an interview at the CTIA Wireless trade show yesterday, the executive claimed that 3G tablets could soon become commonplace, now that the cost of implementing 3G HSPA+ radio into set devices to manufacturers has fallen to around $30 (by contrast, Lurie reckons implementing LTE 4G radio still costs approximately $70).

“All devices should have all capabilities built in from the beginning. One reason that hasn’t become a reality is that the additional hardware has been too expensive in the past. The ecosystem was a little out of balance.”

Lurie expects more tablet manufacturers to push models to market with cellular and WiFi connectivity in future, certainly as the premium for 3G continues to subside. The AT&T exec also believes that slate manufacturers and other OEMs will be saving money usually spent on product designs and marketing, by just launching one model, rather than two. 

Despite Lurie’s view, many are still not convinced by the idea. IDC researcher Bob O’Donnell told PC Advisor that most OEMs will still be unwilling to absorb the cost of a $30 3G module, while the relative low-price of a WiFi-only tablet, as well as the number of pricey data plans, is enough to convince TabTimes that WiFi-only tablets will be around for a little while yet.

Furthermore, manufacturers are unlikely to drop WiFi-only tablets while there is such demand for the tablets, demand that isn't likely to drop off while tablets are primarily used in the home, whilst future talk of ubiquitous WiFi could also slow any move to 3G and 4G tablets.

However, O’Donnell did point out that there may be some mileage in carriers, like AT&T, offering family or group data plans, a move which could entice consumers to sign-up for cellular data plans. Ironically, AT&T subsequently confirmed plans to roll-out new data plans for families at this week's CTIA trade show.

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