ABI: 17.6M tablets shipped last year with 3G/4G modems

During 2011, around one-third of all the tablet computers sold across the globe featured a built-in cellular modem, according to new figures from ABI Research provided to FierceWireless. The firm said that, of the 65 million tablets shipped last year, around 27 percent--17.6 million--featured support for 3G and 4G networks.

ABI said that a total of 24 million cellular-capable tablets have shipped into the market since 2009.

Although roughly one in three tablets can connect to 3G or 4G networks, a recent report from Chetan Sharma Consulting found that 90 percent of tablet users are only using Wi-Fi, even if the tablets have cellular data capabilities. (Sharma's findings apply only to the U.S. market.) Sharma noted the findings indicated that wireless carriers may not be a strong distribution channel for tablets. However, he added that family data pans, which bundle multiple devices together into a single pool of data, could help alleviate the issue for carriers.

It's no real secret that Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) iPad continues to dominate the tablet market, three years since the gadget was first introduced. Apple sold 40.5 million iPads in 2011.

Other tablet vendors include Samsung and Motorola Mobility (NYSE:MMI). ABI found that Samsung had an 8 percent market share in 2011 media tablet shipments, Amazon Kindle Fire a 7 percent share, Acer a 4 percent share, Asus a 3 percent share and Motorola had 2 percent.

And the tablet market is set to boom, according to Gartner. The firm predicted worldwide sales of tablets will almost double to 118.9 million units this year, compared with 60 million units in 2011.

Earlier this year, Apple released its third-generation iPad tablet, which features support for LTE networks. The offering isn't the first tablet to connect to LTE; Samsung and Motorola Mobility both offer LTE-capable tablets.

But, according to ABI, 4G tablets (either LTE or WiMAX) don't seem to be catching fire with subscribers. The firm said that, of the 2011 tablet shipments with mobile broadband support, only 5 percent have the capability to connect to LTE or WiMAX. The firm said that the most popular wireless technology in tablets is HSPA, with fully 61 percent of tablets shipped in 2011 supporting the network technology.

For more:
- see this Gartner release

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