AT&T is taking a creative approach to encouraging more tablets to connect to its network. Rather than dropping prices or doubling data as its competitors have done, the carrier is offering a "smartcase" -- a cover that will turn WiFi-only iPads into LTE machines.
AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) announced what it is calling the first US smartcase of its kind on Tuesday for the WiFi-only versions of the iPad Air or iPad mini. The AT&T Modio smartcase lets anyone with a Mobile Share plan connect to its LTE network. It didn't reveal pricing or availability, but the protective cover will be available online and in its retail stores. It also comes with an app for customers to monitor their data usage while on LTE.
It's an interesting strategy for AT&T. As Jan Dawson, chief analyst with Jackdaw Research, points out, AT&T consistently adds many fewer tablets than its main competitor Verizon Wireless , although handily beating out Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S) and T-Mobile US Inc. Selling an aftermarket case won't help boost its LTE tablet numbers, but it's a good way to upsell those users who decided too late that 4G connectivity could be helpful. For AT&T, it adds up to more connections on its network either way. (See Tablets, Prepaid, Competition Shake Up Q2.)
"Getting people to buy and then activate LTE-capable tablets is a challenge, because many people don't know when they buy a tablet whether that feature will be useful, and it often costs over a hundred dollars up front plus quite a bit each month," Dawson says. "The LTE case AT&T is launching will provide a way for people who bought a WiFi version and are regretting it to get LTE capability. The pricing will be key to how attractive that is, though."
This is just one of several announcements AT&T has made this week at the Consumer Electronics Show and its annual developers' conference in Las Vegas. The carrier has also unveiled an application programming interface (API) for developers wanting to build WebRTC services, a managed services platform for the Internet of Things, new partnerships for Digital Life and Drive, its connected car platform, and more. (See CES Preview: 5 TV and Tech Trends .)
— Sarah Reedy, Senior Editor, Light Reading