“There are multiple reasons for greater Wi-Fi reliance,” said Eddie Hold, vice president, Connected Intelligence. “Concern over the high cost of cellular data plans is certainly an issue, but more consumers are finding that Wi-Fi is available in the majority of locations where they use their tablets, providing them ‘good enough’ connectivity. In addition, the vast majority of tablet users already own a smartphone, which fulfills the ‘must have’ connectivity need.”Apple's iPad is the dominant product in the tablet market, and 3G-compatible models continue to carry a $130 premium over their Wi-Fi-only counterparts. While carriers have attempted to make data access for tablets flexible by offering as-needed access without the need for a data contract, cellular data service is still not a major add-on for most consumers. With the growing prevalence of Wi-Fi and features such as mobile hotspot functionality on smartphones, it is becoming less common for users to require on-board cellular data connectivity for their tablet devices.
There are also many more tablets hitting the market that do not provide cellular connectivity, such as the Kindle Fire. While many early adopters opted for tablets with embedded cellular – primarily as a “future proof” play – mainstream consumers are more likely to choose a lower price point and forgo the promise of constant connectivity.
One development that could increase cellular data usage is shared data plans, which could allow users to draw from a single allotment of data on multiple devices. Such plans could make it easier for tablet users to sign up for occasional data usage on their tablets drawn from their current smartphone data plans, without incurring a full month's data charge for the tablet alone.