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LTE-Equipped Tablets Are Gaining Ground

NEW YORK – Wireless carriers are stepping up their support for cellular-equipped tablets, launching new models in recent days to boost revenues as smartphone penetration peaks.

T-Mobile unveiled three LTE-equipped tablets, and AT&T prepared to launch an Asus smartphone that docks with a 9-inch display, turning it into a tablet.

At the same time, however, companies didn’t ignore the Wi-Fi tablet business.

Toshiba, for example, unveiled the 7-inch Android 4.4-based Excite Go, priced at a suggested $109 with Office Suite Pro, and Encore 2 tablets running Windows 8.1 with 8- and 10-inch touchscreens and quad-core Intel Atom processors at $199 to $329.

For its part, Microsoft unveiled Surface Pro 3 tablets with Windows 8.1 OS at $799 to $1,949.

Global year-over-year shipments of tablets fell for the first time in the first quarter, dropping almost 5 percent to 56.3 million units from the year-ago 59 million units, NPD DisplaySearch found.

But tablets in use with mobile broadband subscriptions will grow more than five times in the next five years to reach almost 250 million in 2018 at a global level, according to Strategy Analytics. In the U.S., 50 million tablet subscriptions will be added in the next five years, with Verizon Wireless, Sprint and AT&T combined having added almost 1.5 million tablet subscriptions in the first quarter of this year.

In markets such as the U.S. with high wireless penetration rates, “operators are driving tablet connections through use of shared data plans and add-on plans to encourage their existing phone user base to add a tablet to their account,” said Susan Welsh de Grimaldo, director of Wireless Operator Strategies.

With that strategy in mind, carriers announced the following:

T-Mobile expanded its selection of tablets running on its network. Two of the new models are the first cellular-equipped tablets offered by Walmart.

One is the $179 Apollo Brands Trio AXS quad-core tablet at $179. It will be followed in June by the HP Slate 7 HD tablet at $229. All come with free 200MB of 4G data for as long as the user owns the tablet but no roaming.

The tablets’ low pricing and data plans are designed to entice people to opt for cellularequipped tablets rather than Wi-Fi tablets, said T-Mobile SVP Doug Chartier, citing the high cost of cellular-enabled tablets and what he said are competitors’ higher priced data plans.

The Trio AXS Android tablet features 7.85- inch HD display, quad-core 1.2GHz processor, 1GB RAM, 16GB storage, two cameras and a MicroSD slot.

The HP Slate 7 HD features a wide-angle 7-inch display.

Purchasers at Walmart can choose from two prepaid plans at $35/month for 3.5GB of high-speed data or $50 for 5GB of high-speed data, with no data-overage charges. Data speeds slow to 128Kbps after the data caps are reached. Additional daily, weekly and monthly postpaid plan options are also available for T-Mobile customers with an existing voice plan. Those options start at $10/month for almost 1.2 GB of high-speed data.

Separately, T-Mobile announced that the 2014 edition of Samsung’s Galaxy Note 10.1 Android tablet will be available on its website and in participating stores nationwide beginning June 4 at $99.99 down and 24 monthly payments of $23 on T-Mobile’s equipment installment plan for a total of $651.99.

Customers can add their new tablet to their voice plan free of charge and get almost 1.2GB of free 4G LTE data every month through the end of 2014, plus 200MB of free data for life every month after that.

AT&T announced a price and preorder date for the long-awaited Asus PadFone X but didn’t announce an availability date.

The smartphone-and-tablet package consists of a 5-inch FullHD Android 4.4 smartphone that docks into the back of an included tablet-like PadFone Station with 9-inch touchscreen to display and control phone apps, which are resized automatically for the larger display.

The Asus PadFone X will be available exclusively on the AT&T network at $199 with a two-year contract, or $22.92 per month with no contract and no down payment on the AT&T Next 18 tradeu p program, or $29.80 per month with the AT&T Next 12 trade-up program. Preorders start June 6 on AT&T’s website and in AT&T stores.

As for when consumers will be able to get their hands on the device, a spokesman said, “We don’t have a date for that yet.”

The phone incorporates Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 800 2.3GHz quad-core CPU, 2GB RAM, 16GB of onboard storage, and 64GB MicroSD slot. The PadFone Station features a high-capacity 4,990 mAh battery that charges the phone when it is docked to extend phone battery life up to two times longer. The combination also features Power Matters Alliance (PMA) wireless charging.

AT&T also plans to offer the PadFone X Mobile Dock, which is a custom-fit Bluetooth keyboard made of aluminum to turn the PadFone X into a notebook. The keyboard features integrated touchpad. The Mobile Dock connects to PadFone X via Bluetooth 3.0 and includes a 450 mAh battery for up to one month of use between charges.

Other features include LTE-Advanced technologies, including carrier aggregation, Voice over LTE (VoLTE) and HD Voice over VoLTE.