Tablet Trend Helping Wi-Fi Instead of Cell Carriers


Photo by Oran Viriyincy -
Photo by Oran Viriyincy -

If you received an iPad for Christmas, there is a 95 percent chance you connected to a local Wi-Fi network to slurp up data, a new study predicts. Where does that leave cellular carriers? Out in the cold with their expensive data plans and 3G tablets, that’s where. The really bad news for folks like Sprint is the trend for 9.5 out of 10 tablets to exclusively use Wi-Fi doesn’t appear to be changing.

The bringer of bad news is Sandvine, a company that keeps track of how mobile devices are used. The problem with tablets is that they are not as mobile as carriers would prefer. Instead of taking them where the only Internet connection is cellular-based, many iPad owners simply jump on their home Wi-Fi network or the corner cafe’s hotspot. Like much in life the reason boils down to cost.

First off, a 3G tablet costs more than a Wi-Fi only device. This is why Amazon’s Kindle Fire only offers Wi-Fi. The second is to use the 3G, you need to buy a separate data plan for your iPad, since there is no sharing your iPhone’s data bucket. That could change in 2012 when Verizon Wireless is expected to introduce a family data plan.

The advent of so-called “pooled plans” won’t mean automatic milk-and-honey for carriers. Subscribers will still watch their data allowance like a hawk to prevent being socked with huge overages because they just love the new batch of cat videos on YouTube.

If carriers can’t make it with data plans, there is still the texting racket, where providers pay pennies for for an SMS message to piggyback along voice signals, but charge $20 per month for unlimited usage, right? Maybe not for long.

According to Sandvine, tablet users and smartphone owners are quickly turning to iMessage, BlackBerry Messenger or WhatsApp. Instead of paying for a texting plan or $0.20 a pop, mobile device users are taking a page from carriers and using a fraction of their data plan to send texts. But this trend certainly shouldn’t worry carriers, should it? Think again, grasshopper.

The study found in the Asia-Pacific markets 8 percent of consumers avoid SMS charges by using WhatsApp. Just think what havoc could be unleashed if teenage U.S. girls discover this option? It just sends shivers down the coldest carrier.

So, let’s review: fewer people make phone calls, so carriers turn to data plans to recoup their losses. The Wi-Fi iPad is born and people attach themselves to Wi-Fi networks, giving 3G fees the big kiss-off. SMS is a lucrative way to squeeze cash from consumers sending billions of text messages each day. Apps like iMessage come along, allowing iPad owners to bypass texting fees. Where does that put carriers? You don’t need the Where’s My iPhone app to know your up a creek without a paddle.