To 3G Or Not 3G In a Tablet?

Ok.  First, I know, there’s 4G also.  This will be about whatever number ‘G’ is available at this particular minute in the tech world since by the time you read this we may in fact be at 10G.

Anyway, signal type for the delivery of data over the air is becoming more and more confusing to a lot of people.  For those not familiar, here’s the difference in laymen’s terms:

  1. WiFi – This is a location specific broadcasting of that location’s internet signal.  Homes, offices, cafe’s, stores, etc.  You will lose the signal when leaving the building or a short distance from it.  It’s typically faster than the cellular ‘G’ signals.
  2. 3/4G – This is a non-location specific data delivery using a cellular signal.  It’s convenient because this signal type allows for use “anywhere/anytime”.  It is typically slower than a WiFi signal.

So if 3/4G offer “anytime/anywhere” signal types then I should want that in a tablet, right?  Actually, the answer is “no” and I will explain why as well as what your options are.  There are two basic reasons not to purchase a 3/4G version of a tablet:

  1. No choice of carrier or plan. Getting the “best deal” on services like data is never accomplished without choice.  Unlike WiFi which is standard architecture in a device, 3/4G is a unique chipset to each carrier.  Therefore, a device with built-in 3/4G has to be made for a specific carrier.  You have no choice.
  2. Cost is higher. Compared to WiFi-only devices, 3/4G included devices are typically $100 to $200 more for the cost of the device.

No argument here that 3/4G signal capability can be very convenient and beneficial for many users.  So what are your options?  And what are the benefits?

  1. MiFi – These are battery powered little boxes offered by cellular companies like Sprint, Verizon, and AT&T.  Once on, you become a walking mobile WiFi-like hotspot using the 3/4G signal of the cellular carrier.  You get the mobility convenience plus your choice of plan and service as well as initial cost savings of the tablet.
  2. Tethering from your data-enable smartphone – “Tethering” is the function of using your smartphone as a data modem for things like laptops and tablets.  It’s done either through a USB or Bluetooth connection.  Be careful hear because this isn’t free to do.  Most cellular carriers allow this as an additional service and fee for smartphone owners.  Check with your cellular carrier.  Likewise, watch your data usage if you are on a set data amount each month as full-featured web usage can quickly rack up a lot in terms of data usage.

The bottom-line to it all is that the inclusion of 3/4G in a tablet (or any device) nowadays is not all that important.  WiFi is definitely important.  If you need the 3/4G flexibility of “anytime/anywhere”, you have choice (which is always the best way to go) while not shelling out additional upfront costs and being locked in with one carrier.

eReaders also come up here with things like Amazon’s Kindle or B&N’s 3G Nook.  These are a bit different in that users are not paying monthly for that signal and that is because the only thing the 3G is being used for is the download of a ebook.  eBooks are typically small in file size and place a very low burden on cellular networks.  This “tide is turning” as well, and we are seeing better ereaders come out without including the 3G signal and being WiFi-only to give lower cost to the customer.  Again, the user now has choice with things like a MiFi box.

What are you thoughts?

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Author:Brad West

I live in Palm Coast, FL with my family and have assisted my local parish with our website and communications. Our parishes today can benefit a great deal from technology. Whether it's improving communications, community building, evangelizing, business operations, and much more; we have the tools today. To help provide some direction and advice to parishes and parishioners, I wrote and published an eBook titled "The Connected Church" which is available through Barnes and Noble (Nooks and Nook apps) as well as Amazon (Kindle and Kindle apps).
  • Christine Maentz

    I have to disagree with you.  Hubby has a Verizon Thunderbolt – we were recently camping in PA where 4G was offered.  His Xoom, my Ipad & my Mac were all “connected” via his Thunderbolt.  I have to tell you that we’d never experienced this kind of speed before.  Not even in our home where we have DSL.  Now one of our criteria for selecting a campground is 4G service!

    • Craig Berry

      I got to demo the Thunderbolt last week in a 4g coverage area. Web sites loaded 30% or faster than my iphone4 on 3g.
      It was faster than my 1.5Mb/sec home DSL connection, but not faster than my workplace business-class cable modem.

      I think 4g is going to be a hit.

      I should note however, that my Thunderbolt demo phone had terrible battery-life…I couldn’t trace the culprit…but it’s ‘possible’ that it was the 4g connection. 

    • Brad

      That’s my point actually.  Rather than purchasing the tablets with the 3G/4G service built-in (i.e. the Xoom and iPad 3G versions vs. less expensive wifi only versions), use an external tethered phone or MiFi box.  You get more choice and can connect 5 devices rather than spending the extra money for it built-in to the device.

      I was wondering about the 4G with Verizon.  We’ve been with them for quite a while and love their service.  Glad to hear it really is living up to what they claim.  We did the laptop card for a while for my wife’s real estate business, and was never real impressed.  She has more wifi access now and the expense just didn’t add up so we dropped it.  Eventually, as we move to a tablet for that business (once her tablet laptop goes) I can definitely see adding 4G tethering or MiFi for a ton of things in the field.