While analyst figures may vary, there is no doubt tablets have carved out a niche market and presented operators with a new avenue for increasing ARPU.
The tablet market, headed by Apple’s iPad, was labeled ‘promising new talent’ by ABI Research, which recently revealed global shipments of the devices hit 4.5 million devices in the fourth quarter.
More than 90% of the shipments were iPads, but Jeff Orr, a senior practice director at ABI, said Apple’s first-to-market iPad advantage would “erode to some extent” as competing devices came onboard.
Research and Markets concurs, and estimates Apple’s share of the global tablet market will drop from 78% in 2010 to 47% by 2014.
While the opportunity for increasing ARPU exists, Ovum analyst Tim Renowden warns not all forms of tablets could benefit operators. “Tablets will be a significant part of operators’ plans, though many tablets will be shipped Wi-Fi only and sold through retail channels, limiting the opportunity for operators,” Renowden said.
“Cellular-connected tablets are high-ARPU devices, but depending on whether carriers will offer them subsidized or sell data connectivity via SIM-only plans will have an impact on the size of the ARPU lift.”
But Renowden added that Wi-Fi only tablets still required connectivity that could be provided by cellular Wi-Fi hotspots, smartphone tethering and dongles.
“It is clear that tablets provide a strong device category that can be used to sell additional data plans to consumers and business customers, and operators are preparing to exploit this.”
Renowden feels media tablet adoption will be slow in countries with limited purchasing power, due to the devices' relatively high price tags.
However, mass-market adoption may occur as lower-cost tablets inevitably emerge – providing operators in these markets with ARPU boosting opportunities.