The number of tablets in the United States using an embedded cellular connection jumped 46 percent in 2013 to 10.4 million, up from 7.1 million in 2012, according to a new report from NPD's Connected Intelligence Mobile Connectivity Report. Strikingly, that increase came despite the fact that sales of cellular-capable tablets actually declined from 16 percent of total tablet sales in 2012 to 12 percent in 2013, according to NPD's Retail Tracking Service.
NPD pinned the increase in the number of active cellular tablets on the fact that carriers have started offering more affordable tablet data plans. For a long period of time consumers who bought tablets with 3G or LTE connectivity simply were not activating those connections.
AT&T Mobility (NYSE:T) last fall introduced a $5 tablet plan that gives subscribers 250 MB of data for a single day as well as a $25 plan for 1 GB that can be used any time in a three-month period. T-Mobile US (NYSE:TMUS) has been offering 200 MB of free data per month for tablet customers as long as they keep their tablet on the carrier's network.
"The fourth quarter was a good one for the top four carriers, with the addition of around 1.5 million new tablet subscribers," NPD analyst Brad Akyuz said in a statement. "Even though AT&T and Verizon captured almost 90 percent of all tablet connections in the market, Sprint had a very good quarter and T-Mobile has a lot of potential with their new data plans."
Despite the uptick in people using tablets with cellular connections, they are still not using a ton of cellular data, according to NPD. According to the Connected Intelligence Data Consumption Report, in the fourth quarter, consumers who connected their tablets through embedded cellular used just under 1 GB of data per month, but smartphone owners use closer to 2 GB of data each month, indicating that tablet cellular data is still a secondary connection method.
NPD also reported "a healthy increase" in the number of tablet connections through mobile and smartphone hotspots among consumers. There are 7.8 million consumers connecting their tablets to the Internet via a cellular hotspot, 6 million via smartphone hotspots and 1.8 million via an external mobile hotspot device, according to NPD.
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