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T-Mobile USA topped Current Analysis' rankings of U.S. wireless carriers' tablet service plans. In a new report on the space, the research firm said T-Mobile's "user-friendly initiatives such as its low-cost options for existing users, its variety of plans, and the absence of overages fees on the 5 GB plan (data speeds are throttled instead) make its offerings more appealing than those of rivals."
However, Current Analysis analyst Deepa Karthikeyan, author of the report, offered a notable caveat: T-Mobile offers too many pricing options to tablet users, some of which overlap. The nation's No. 4 carrier offers prepaid, postpaid and no-contract service plan options that range from $10 per month to $50. The plans go under a dizzying array of names including, "Even More," "Even More Plus," "Even More webConnect" and "Even More Plus webConnect."
Karthikeyan also gave relatively high marks to AT&T (NYSE: T ) Mobility and Verizon (NYSE: VZ ) Wireless' service plans for tablets, noting that both provide access to various WiFi hotspots, and that both carry the Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL ) iPad.
Interestingly, Karthikeyan pointed out that Verizon, which bundles its MiFi device with the iPad, offers the gadget for the same price as AT&T -- "which equates to Verizon Wireless effectively throwing in the MiFi unit free with the iPad." AT&T is the exclusive service provider for the 3G version of the iPad, while Verizon sells the less-expensive, WiFi-only model.
Sprint Nextel (NYSE: S ) didn't fare well in Current Analysis' assessment, however. "While Sprint deserves a pat on its back for making an effort to differentiate its options by including unlimited messaging as a component and offering users the ability to add Sprint Navigation for a monthly fee ($9.99), the fact remains that these features will do little to attract users, as they are not applicable to them," Karthikeyan wrote. "Unlike handsets, where SMS are delivered with an associated phone number, which adds to the value proposition, tablet devices will not have that feature since there is no voice component. These users are more likely to resort to instant messaging services that are available free from the device's Android store, and in all probability, they will opt for Google's (free) mapping services, rather than shelling out the mandatory $9.99 a month for Sprint's navigation services."
Current Analysis' report on tablet pricing plans sprung from the recent upheaval in the space; in response to the release of Apple's iPad and Samsung's GalaxyTab, most of the nation's largest wireless carriers have introduced tablet-specific service plans. Further, a wide range of vendors -- including LG, Acer, Hewlett-Packard and Research In Motion (Nasdaq: RIMM ) -- plan to release additional tablets into the market in the months ahead.
"This is just the beginning of the tablet wars," Karthikeyan concluded. "As more devices are launched and more regional and prepaid carriers join the fray with competitive offerings, tablet portfolios will continue to evolve and change. The ultimate winner in this space is the end user, as the ongoing competition will lead to cost-effective plans packed with features and more options from which to consider."