3G and 4G Group Data Plans Needed

I am beginning to change my tune on the embedded cellular radio vs. the external MiFi device debate. Does it make sense to purchase a tablet with embedded 3G or 4G or is it better to go with an external 3G/4G device which becomes a personal hotspot?

To date I have decided that my laptop should have embedded Verizon 3G via EVDO while the iPad – embedded AT&T 3G.

But if you have a family and your kids need (OK need is a strong word – desire is probably more appropriate) connectivity, should you embed their devices with 3G modems as well?

Obviously the bill can get pretty big pretty fast and if you have kids who only occasionally need wireless access when WiFi isn’t available it is crazy to sign a multi-year contract for $40 or more per month. Sure you could get a cheaper plan but if you opt for an iPhone instead an iPod Touch to take advantage of a wireless carrier’s larger 3G wireless footprint you have to buy a voice plan as well which starts at $39.99/month – then of course you’ll want to add a text message plan, etc.

This is why I read with interest the news that Best Buy is selling a bundle of an iPad with a free MiFi with a 2-year contract.

When you amortize the use of this free device across all your family’s gadgets such as the Nintendo DS, iPod Touch and future products you know you’ll buy, it seems to make sense to have one.

But one wonders if carriers aren’t doing themselves a long-term disservice by not coming up with some sort of group or family plan for devices. In this way they get consumers to ante up a bit more – let’s say for example $10-$20/month per device for dedicated 3G.

After all, even if you are typically in range of the MiFi, there will be instances when you’ll want your device to have its own cellular radio.

Of course Virgin Mobile offers a MiFi 2200 with 100 MB per month for just $10 so therein lies the pricing challenge. But still, carriers are leaving money on the table by not becoming more aggressive in competing with MiFi devices. They should realize the threat is changing consumer behavior – making direct 3G and 4G connections in each device less important.

From my perspective, they should want consumers to put cellular radios in every device they purchase to maximize revenue. And if they don’t reverse this trend soon, it may be too late to educate the market on the reasons for wanting every device to always be connected.

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