You carry your smartphone with you everywhere, right? You should make it the center of your wireless world.
I've been reading a lot about all the new tablet computers lately and one thing has struck me as kind of odd. Many of these new tablets are following in the footsteps of the iPad and offering two different versions: one with wireless (cellular) data hardware and one with only Wi-Fi hardware. With the prevalence of smartphones today I'm not really sure why anybody would need the wireless hardware built into the actual tablet itself.
The tablets that include wireless data hardware are generally anywhere from $100 to $200 more expensive than their Wi-Fi only versions. On top of that you then must either agree to a 2-year data contract or, depending on the tablet you purchase, can simply add wireless data when you need it (such as when you go on vacation) at ala carte pricing. Here's the thing though: Even at the ala carte pricing the data rates aren't any cheaper than just adding "hotspot" service with a higher data limit to your existing smartphone data plan.
Let's look at AT&T as an example. Their "DataPro" plan gives you 2GB worth of data for your smartphone for $25 per month. For $45 per month you can get the "DataPro" plan with 4GB of data and mobile hotspot usage. Each additional GB of data is an additional $10. Their "DataConnect" plan for use with a laptop or mobile hotspot is $35 per month for 3 GB of data, with each additional GB of data billed at the same $10 per month.
So let's say you are a heavy user and plan to use your tablet (or laptop, or even standalone mobile hotspot) to transfer 4GB of data per month on the wireless network, in addition to the 2GB that you use for your smartphone each month. If you have your smartphone and tablet plans separate you will pay $25 for the smartphone data, plus $45 for the tablet's data for a total of $70 per month. If you were just using the "DataConnect" plan on your smartphone, and then connecting via Wi-Fi from your tablet to your smartphone's hotspot you would pay $65.
Now, $5 isn't a huge savings each month, but you have to remember that you also saved a substantial amount of money upfront on your tablet by not buying the one with wireless data hardware built-in. In addition if you were also planning on buying a separate wireless data card for your laptop you can save even more money because you can connect both your laptop and your tablet to your smartphone's hotspot. Now instead of paying a minimum charge for multiple data plans you have combined your total data limit into one plan that can be shared between all your mobile gadgets.
Save more than just money
Besides just the financial savings you will also save the headaches of possibly having multiple accounts from different wireless carriers or even just multiple accounts from the same carrier. Your wireless data has been simplified to one bill for your phone and data, one pool of data usage to share between all of your devices, and only one point of connection between your devices and the mobile Internet.
To me this just makes sense. At home you don't have separate cable modems for your laptop, game system, and TV, so why would you have separate wireless service for each of your mobile devices? Your phone can act as a sort of portable router for your mobile devices, just as your home router shares your one broadband connection amongst all your home devices.
So my simple advice is this: Make sure you have a smartphone that can act as a hotspot (lots of them can, even the iPhone now). Once you have your hotspot capable smartphone then only buy mobile devices with Wi-Fi. Don't pay extra for the wireless data hardware that you don't need. If you find that you only need the data plan on your other devices occasionally then just add the hotspot feature and additional data to your smartphone plan when you need it. The data component of most cell phone plans is not part of the contract and can be adjusted whenever needed. Even if you have already purchased other equipment that has wireless data hardware built-in, just stop using it. You will at least save a little bit of money each month and also simplify your billing.