Will the iTablet finally bring true data roaming?

New rumors about the Apple iTablet (or iSlate, or iSomething) suggest that it may come with 3G wireless network access built in. Big deal, since all smartphones already have this, right? No, the rumormongers are suggesting that iTablet owners will be able to pick and choose from several different cellular providers--but only for data, not voice.

It is likely that current cellular roaming agreements that make it possible to use your cellphone on any network would be modified to allow data roaming independent of voice contracts.

If this happens, it will be good news/bad news for the cellular industry. Good news in the sense that it will bring an entirely new stream of revenue to them--every iTablet owner who already has a cellphone contract will likely purchase a second contract for data roaming, and the cost will probably run $40 to $50 per month. The bad news is that the tablet will put even more pressure on cellular networks, as high bandwidth uses like watching TV shows, movies, YouTube videos, and video chat will explode. Want to bet that the iSlate will have Apple's iSight video webcam built in, just the way current Apple laptops have the tiny camera built in? Bet on it, and expect an explosion in video-enabled Skype use among iTablet owners.

There is potentially good news for rural communities suffering from lack of broadband and poor or nonexistent cellphone service. The new revenue streams that are likely to emerge may help improve the business case to expand wireless voice and data services into rural areas previously difficult to justify from a revenue perspective. But community broadband networks, powered by fiber, will still be needed to support commerce, jobs, and economic development.

Here's the funny thing about the iTablet--Apple had has this vision for at least 22 years--it has just taken this long for the technolgy to catch up with the Knowledge Navigator.

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