U.S. tablet users are selecting Wi-Fi connectivity over a cellular data connection even more than they were six months ago, according to a new report from the NPD Group. The findings underscore wireless carriers' inability so far to entice large numbers of tablet customers to their data plans.
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According to a new NPD report by the research firm's Connected Intelligence unit, 65 percent of U.S. tablet buyers only connect via Wi-Fi, up from 60 percent in April. Interestingly, the firm in April reported that 5 percent of users planned to upgrade their Wi-Fi connections with cellular connections, but those plans appear to have been scrapped during the intervening six months.
The NPD results match other recent surveys that indicate tablet users are not that interested in cellular connectivity. Figures from research firm Nielsen released in October show shoppers are much more concerned with factors like touchscreens and tablet brands than the presence of 3G connectivity. According to the results of a survey by the firm, around 42 percent of shoppers considered 3G or 4G capabilities "important" in a tablet purchase. Around 48 percent of respondents didn't have an opinion on the question, and 15 percent said 3G/4G connections were not important.
NPD said there are several factors pushing customers to Wi-Fi-only tablets. One is that Wi-Fi is becoming more ubiquitous, providing users with a "good enough" level of connectivity. Another is that many tablet users already own a smartphone, negating the need for "always-on" connectivity. Wi-Fi-only tablets such as Amazon.com's Kindle Fire are also generally cheaper than tablets with cellular connectivity and appeal more to mainstream users, according to NPD analyst Eddie Hold.
"There is a relatively low mobile connection rate for tablet users today in light of the fact that these were early adopters, and therefore less price conscious than the mainstream," Hold said in a statement. "If there is not an ongoing need for these early adopters to be always-on, then the carriers clearly face challenges with the larger consumer audience moving forward."
One other major factor that could be holding users back from embracing cellular connectivity in tablets is the need to have an additional data plan. However, this might change next year. Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ) expects to offer data plans for multiple devices sometime in 2012, and executives from AT&T Mobility (NYSE:T) and Sprint Nextel (NYSE:S) have hinted at such plans as well. AT&T Mobility's Glenn Lurie, president of emerging devices, wholesale and partnerships, said in September that most customers purchase 3G-enabled tablets in conjunction with a prepaid data plan.
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