AT&T sees an end to Wi-Fi-only tablets

The carrier thinks device makers should converge on models with cellular radios as the cost goes down

Tablet makers are moving toward selling only models equipped with cellular radios and away from having separate Wi-Fi-only units, as the added cost of 3G hardware falls below US$30, an AT&T executive said Tuesday.

Most tablets still are sold with only Wi-Fi. For Apple's iPad, by far the dominant tablet, no more than half of the units sold are equipped with cellular, said IDC analyst Bob O'Donnell. Buying a 3G or 4G model adds cost both for the hardware purchase and for the service plan.

But AT&T is happy with the sales rate of cellular-equipped tablets and the adoption of data plans for them, said Glenn Lurie, president of emerging devices, in an interview at CTIA Wireless. And the carrier is talking with manufacturers about making their product lines consistently equipped for 3G or 4G, he said.

"All devices should have all capabilities built in from the beginning," Lurie said. One reason that hasn't become a reality is that the additional hardware has been too expensive in the past, he said. "The ecosystem was a little out of balance."

Now, the cost of a 3G HSPA+ radio to device makers is only about $30 on an average, Lurie said. (However, the difference for an LTE radio is still around $60 to $70, he said.) As the cost premium gets thinner, he expects tablet lineups to consolidate on a single design with both cellular and Wi-Fi.

One tablet sold by AT&T has already gone that way, Lurie said: The Pantech Element, a combination Wi-Fi and LTE product that AT&T offered for $399, and which has already sold out, according to Lurie. But there are other such products in the planning stages, he said.

Offering just one model of each tablet would save the OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) a lot of cost for marketing and keeping inventory of multiple designs, Lurie said.

One barrier to Lurie's vision may be Apple, which still adds $130 to the price of each given iPad model for a 4G radio. While a majority of tablet makers charge consumers $50 more for a cellular-equipped model, "others have made other decisions," he said.

Apple's dominance of the tablet market makes any effort toward single-design tablets harder, IDC's O'Donnell said. Some makers of Android and other devices may converge on one model, but even for them, a $30 component is still too significant to simply absorb into the cost of the device, he said. "OEMs sweat over nickels and quarters," O'Donnell said.

The key to getting more consumers to buy cellular-equipped tablets will be carriers offering data plans that cover more than one device, O'Donnell said. "All they have to do is open up those data plans," he said. "That'll solve it overnight."

AT&T's Lurie said the carrier is still studying multiple-device plans and has no plans to announce at this time.

Stephen Lawson covers mobile, storage and networking technologies for The IDG News Service. Follow Stephen on Twitter at @sdlawsonmedia. Stephen's e-mail address is

Join the newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.
Rocket to Success - Your 10 Tips for Smarter ERP System Selection
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Stephen Lawson

IDG News Service
Show Comments



Sansai 6-Outlet Power Board + 4-Port USB Charging Station

Learn more >



Back To Business Guide

Click for more ›

Brand Post

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles


PCW Evaluation Team

Louise Coady

Brother MFC-L9570CDW Multifunction Printer

The printer was convenient, produced clear and vibrant images and was very easy to use

Edwina Hargreaves

WD My Cloud Home

I would recommend this device for families and small businesses who want one safe place to store all their important digital content and a way to easily share it with friends, family, business partners, or customers.

Walid Mikhael

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

It’s easy to set up, it’s compact and quiet when printing and to top if off, the print quality is excellent. This is hands down the best printer I’ve used for printing labels.

Ben Ramsden

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

Brainstorming, innovation, problem solving, and negotiation have all become much more productive and valuable if people can easily collaborate in real time with minimal friction.

Sarah Ieroianni

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

The print quality also does not disappoint, it’s clear, bold, doesn’t smudge and the text is perfectly sized.

Ratchada Dunn

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The Huddle Board’s built in program; Sharp Touch Viewing software allows us to easily manipulate and edit our documents (jpegs and PDFs) all at the same time on the dashboard.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?