Apple, Nokia tablets offer different takes on Wi-Fi

In a tale of two tablet vendors, product releases this week from Nokia (NYSE:NOK) and Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) reveal strikingly different approaches to wireless connectivity. However, the approaches are not surprising given the companies' histories.

From a wireless networking perspective, the major difference between the new Nokia 2520 and the Apple iPads is their approach to Wi-Fi. Nokia, whose modern business has been firmly rooted in the cellular industry, is not offering a Wi-Fi only variant of its new tablet. Apple, with a long history in consumer electronics and mobile computing, included Wi-Fi only versions in the new tablets, as it has before.

"The Lumia 2520 tablet comes with superior hardware at a competitive price but the combination of the 10-inch form-factor with no Wi-Fi-only variant is a questionable decision on Nokia's part," wrote Malik Saadi, principal analyst with Informa Telecoms & Media, in a blog entry.

Nokia has defended its decision. "When we were looking to create a tablet, one of the things we looked at was how people use tablets, and we found that 80 percent of consumers use them in the home," Ifi Majid, Nokia's head of product marketing for North America, told AllThingsD. "We thought there was an opportunity to differentiate and change that, so we wanted to make a connected device that can also be used outside of the home."

The Nokia 2520, which runs on Microsoft's (NASDAQ:MSFT) Windows RT operating system, offers combined 802.11n Wi-Fi and LTE connectivity, including multiband LTE connectivity, and is priced at a seemingly reasonable $499. Saadi said Nokia clearly intends to rely upon mobile operators as the primary sales channel for its new tablets.

He observed that this sounds like a good strategy but noted operators such as Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ) and AT&T (NYSE:T) have recently dropped subsidies for large, premium tablets because they are seen as secondary devices by the consumer. Therefore, even at a suggested retail price of $499, "operators could struggle to subsidize the Lumia 2520," Saadi wrote.

AT&T Mobility will support the LTE-enabled 2520 tablet--as will other U.S. carriers--and is the exclusive U.S. carrier for the Nokia 1520 phablet, which was also introduced this week. The 2520 supports Verizon's LTE Band 4 (1700/2100 MHz) and Band 13 (700 MHz), making it likely that operator will also be a partner on the tablet.

Apple, meanwhile, is continuing to offer Wi-Fi only and Wi-Fi with cellular variants of its popular tablets. Apple stuffed 14 LTE bands into the new 9.7-inch iPads Air and the 7.9-inch iPad mini, including all of the major U.S. bands, as well as many key bands across Europe and Asia. However, the iPads do not support as many LTE networks as Apple's new iPhone 5s and 5c models, omitting support for TD-LTE.

Apple, as it did with the new iPhone versions, opted to stick with the old 802.11n Wi-Fi standard rather than upgrading to the more capable 802.11ac. However, Apple is promising two times faster Wi-Fi--delivering 300 Mbps using 802.11n--thanks to the addition of two-antenna MIMO. The iPads are the first iOS devices to include MIMO.

Verizon Wireless, AT&T, Sprint (NYSE:S), U.S. Cellular (NYSE:USM), C Spire Wireless and Bluegrass Cellular and, for the first time, T-Mobile US (NYSE:TMUS), will carry the new Ipads.

The iPad Mini with Retina will retail at $399, an increase of US$70 over the Wi-Fi-only, 16GB model of the previous iPad Mini, which did not include a Retina display.

Pricing for the iPad Air will start at $499 for the 16 GB model with just Wi-Fi, and $629 for the 16 GB model with cellular connectivity. Those prices increase with added functionality reaching $929 for the 128 GB cellular model.

Jan Dawson, chief telecoms analyst at Ovum, said Apple's continued high tablet pricing leaves a huge chuck of the market open for exploitation by rivals such as Google  (NYSE:TMUS), Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN) and others. "This reinforces our view that Apple's share in tablets will continue to fall as Android's share rises over the coming years," Dawson said.

For more:
- see this Nokia specs webpage
- see this AllThingsD article
- see this Informa blog entry
- see this CNET article
- see this AnandTech article

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