As tablet adoption increases in the U.S., the rate of cellular connections, compared to Wi-Fi, is quite minimal. Instead, more tablet owners rely on Wi-Fi-only connections, according to the NPD Group.

In April 2011, 60 percent of tablet users connected using Wi-Fi. By October 2011, the percentage of Wi-Fi-only users had grown to 65 percent of tablet users, NPD Group research suggests. Most tablets use Wi-Fi

For some of us, the most surprising finding is that about 10 percent of tablets seem to be used without an Internet connection of any type.

Eddie Hold, NPD Connected Intelligence VP says “concern over the high cost of cellular data plans is certainly an issue.”

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But more consumers are finding that Wi-Fi is “good enough” for the purposes users have for their devices. The vast majority of tablet users already own a smart phone, which fulfills the “must have” connectivity function.

One might suspect that early adopters bought 3G-capable devices in part because those early adopters could afford it, while later adopters are more price conscious mainstream users, who might not want to pay for the 3G capability.

There are also many more tablets hitting the market that do not provide either 3G or 4G network connectivity, such as the Kindle Fire. Mainstream consumers are more likely to choose a lower price point and forgo the promise of constant connectivity.

But it is possible all that could change at some point in the future, if mobile service providers so move to create more-affordable “family data plans” for mobile broadband, allowing a single account to support mobile broadband access for multiple devices, including especially tablets.

Verizon Wireless expects to offer family data plans “sometime in 2012,” says Verizon Communications CEO Lowell McAdam. The long-awaited move should have roughly the same impact on mobile broadband adoption as family plans for voice and texting have had on mobile adoption, namely drive mobile broadband usage and accounts very high, over a relatively short period. Family data plans coming

Family plans for voice and data were a major factor in driving widespread adoption of mobile devices in entire households, and family data plans are fully expected to spur adoption of smart phones and data plan usage.

In 2003, family plans accounted for less than 10 percent of the U.S. market, where by 2007 they accounted for 41 percent of adult mobile subscriptions, and 56 percent of new activations. Family plans revolutionize the market

In 2005, researchers at the Yankee Group noted that “family plans have been the main driver of teen cell phone adoption during the past few years.Family plans drive teen mobile adoption

As recently as 2007, 71 percent of all family plans involved only two lines, while Ericsson Business Consulting suggested at the time that nearly 60 percent of family plan accounts, the master account holder is using 75 percent or more of the monthly bucket minutes. Impact of family plans

Contrast that with the situation late in 2011, when the heaviest usage is probably not on a parent’s line, but on the teen and young adult devices. That would be true both for voice as well as text messaging. In many families, it was children who got parents using text messaging, which were, pre-2007, “data services,” as mobile broadband had not begun to be adopted on a wide scale.

Most observers also would say that family plans drove text messaging adoption and contributed to lower churn, as well.

A study by Strategy Analytics suggests that 60 percent of smart phone owners want a single, shared data plan to connect multiple devices like tablets, smart phones and laptops.

About 50 percent of smart phone owners are interested in connecting multiple devices through tethering to their smart phone and 40 percent have an interest in a standalone 3G portable WiFi router (like the MiFi from Novatel Wireless) to connect all their devices. Consumers want family data plans

Executives at AT&T and Sprint also have been talking about the changes for years, and it appears the plans finally will be offered. Though it appears specific policies are not yet fully worked out, the plans will encourage purchases of smart phones and data usage across a range of devices on a single account. Policies not set yet

“I think in 2012 we will see it,” McAdam said.UBS webcast

At the moment, not that many service providers offer family data plans, and most plans are not the robust plans we typically see in the U.S. market for texting and voice.

Since the spring of 2011, Orange has been offering two devices per data plan, bundling 600 minutes, unlimited texts, unlimited BTZone WiFi access, and 2 GBytes of shared data across for iPad and iPhone users, for example, with a cost of

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