Pretty much every major US wireless carrier now offers a few tablets with 3G or 4G data capabilities. But while there’s plenty of supply, there doesn’t appear to be nearly as much demand.

US Tablet Sales

According to a report from analyst Chetan Sharma, 90 percent of tablet users are only using WiFi. Some of those customers actually purchased models with cellular capabilities, but don’t use the mobile broadband features.

He predicts that mobile operators that offer plans that bundle data plans for multiple devices such as smartphones and tablets could see better adoption of 3G and 4G tablets.

But for now, he doesn’t think wireless carriers are a particularly important distribution channel for tablets — no matter how many carriers advertise that they have the latest iPad or Android tablet. You can buy those devices just as easily from Apple, Amazon, or any number of retail stores.

I can’t help but agree with Sharma’s conclusions about bundled pricing. It seems silly to spend an extra $30 per month so that you can use cellular data on your phone and tablet. In fact, most carriers charge you extra just to tether your phone to your tablet so you can surf the web on a larger screen — even if you don’t get any extra data allowance when you pay for tethering.

Give me a 5GB to use on either device and only charge me extra if I go over, and I might think about buying a 3G or 4G tablet.

Or, as GigaOm’s Kevin Tofel suggests, just follow the Apple route and let me buy a tablet with cellular capabilities, but don’t require me to sign up for a two-year contract to use that feature. If I want data one month of the year when I’m on vacation, let me pay for just one month.

What do you think? Do you have a tablet, and did you opt for a WiFi-only model or one with cellular capabilities?

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9 replies on “Most tablet shoppers buy WiFi-only models”

  1. We need in the US to have PRE-PAID blocks of data, that only expire when used up, then we can refill.   This monthly scheme is a racket, and everyone knows it.   I smell an anti-trust action if the cell phone companies don’t let someone come out with a pre-paid data plan like you have been able to get in Europe from day one (but not in the US).  It really could be collusion on the behalf of cell companies here, where they want you on the hook, or want into your wallet, every month.

    Me, I would use WiFi mostly, and only cell data very little, so would never be interested in a monthly plan of any kind, because it would be a huge waste of money for me… Many others, that I have spoken with, are also of the same mind.  Maybe on vacation somewhere else, I would use the cell data more, but really for now… I would buy a pre-paid non-expiring data card that I could refill ONLY WHEN I NEED TO REFILL IT.

  2. I tether if i am completely desperate but the thing is i only do it because the screen is bigger.

  3. If I really need internet access on my tablet and there is no easily accessible Wi-Fi around, I just use free tethering from my smartphone. That is why I like Android, free tethering made easy.

  4. I do wifi most of the time, using my smartphone when i need a quick search or get directions. When I really need mobile connectivity it fish out my prepaid Virgin MiFi and pop for a few days. 

  5. Here’s the thing.  I can’t see paying for my phone and tablet.  I don’t have a smart phone, my wife does, but I gave mine up once I got my tablet.  Wi-fi is ubiquitous enough, if I get lost I pull up next to a Starbucks or McDonalds, and look up where I’m going.  It’s not quite as convenient as turn by turn, or whatever, but I find it’s good enough.  The thing is, that if I can’t honestly justify paying $100 a month for a smart phone, I can’t justify $30-$50 for a ridiculously low cap on a tablet either.

    The carriers (except Sprint so far), are just pricing themselves out of my market, especially since their data fees seem to have little semblance to the cost of delivering that service any more.  I’m also at a point in my life where my money needs to go to other things these days than what is, in the greater scheme of things, a very minor convenience.

  6. There’s no need to be on a cell plan for my Transformer — even if I could.  Like my phone, my tablet will connect to WiFi nearly every place I stop.  There aren’t many places where I can sit down around here that do not offer free WiFi, except the parks. 

    I noticed that on my phone.  Over the two years with this EVO, I’ve added in a lot of different WiFi passwords and it’s usually on WiFi wherever I go.  So, I’ll do the same with my tablet.

  7. We have two tablets at our house (Original Galaxy Tab and an HTC Flyer). One has a 3G radio which has never been used. Both are on WiFi only. We also have smartphones that have built in access point capabilities (which our carrier does NOT criminally charge for), but we rarely use that with our tablets.

  8. Tablets are not smart phones.  They are too big to be carried everywhere.  As a result, they most often get used at work and at home (or at the local Starbucks)…. all of which probably means wifi.  You could easily spend more for the wireless than you do for the tablet (considering how much American carriers charge for service.

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