Microsoft Surface With WiFi-Only Is an Easy Bet

Microsoft will ship its initial Surface tablets with WiFi only, according to a report--which makes sense, say analysts. The first to ship will be the Windows RT model intended for consumers, who may be happy to forgo the hassle of a broadband plan.

Microsoft€™s introduction of its new Surface tablet included just enough information to stir up excitement and more than enough question marks to start the industry guessing€”and poking around.

Bloomberg, in this vein, reported June 22 that Microsoft will initially begin selling the Surface without a cellular connection, relying only on WiFi. The Apple iPad, the Surface€™s primary competition, comes in two versions€”a WiFi-only model and another with WiFi as well as access to the Long-Term Evolution (LTE) networks of AT&T or Verizon Wireless.

The report cited two people familiar with the matter who declined to be named since €œthe full specifications of the new product have yet to be made public.€

Initially foregoing an LTE connection is an interesting move, particularly as Microsoft expects Surface to be a strong business offering. It€™s one thing for consumers using iPads at home to use their WiFi connection, but a business user is likely to need a reliable connection whether in the office or traveling.

Avi Greengart, an analyst with Current Analysis, says Microsoft€™s decision is likely driven by one of three factors.

€œFirst, most of the tablet market is WiFi-only, and Microsoft is focusing on the largest segment of the market,€ Greengart told eWEEK. €œSecond, Microsoft plans to add cellular capabilities in the future, but is focusing on the largest segment of the market first to reduce complexity and get something out the door.€

Indeed, with something out the door, Microsoft can assess how things are going. Endpoint Technologies analyst Roger Kay, in a June 22 post on Forbes, wrote that Microsoft is likely to €œplay it as it lays.€ If Surface takes off, it will support it and build it out, and if it doesn€™t, Microsoft will €œcall it a reference design and market stimulus, and fall back on its old model of supporting its OEM customers.€

A third option, said Greegart, is that €œthere will be Surface variants with embedded cellular modems at the outset, but Microsoft is keeping those details quiet for now€”along with pricing, availability and a dozen other details that the company will not comment on.€

As for what is known, there will be two versions. A Windows RT model will weigh 1.5 pounds, measure 9.3mm thin, feature a 10.6-inch display, include microSD, USB 2.0 and micro High-Definition Multimedia Interface (HDMI) ports, come with Office Home or Student, run an Nvidia Tegra 3 processor (at an unknown speed), and come with 32 or 64GB of embedded storage.

Pricing will be €œcompetitive with ARM tablets,€ Microsoft has shared, which could mean something in the $500 range, give or take $100 in either direction.

A more robust version will run Windows 8 Pro, weigh 2 pounds, measure 13.5-mm thick, feature a 10.6-inch display, include microSDXC, USB 3.0 and mini DisplayPort ports, run an Intel Ivy Bridge processor, come with 64 or 128GB of storage, and be priced to compete with Ultrabooks€”which, with prices varying from at least $700 to $1,500, is so vague as to be included among the question marks, not the answers.

The Windows RT unit will ship at some unknown date following the release of Windows 8; whenever it does ship, the Windows 8 Pro model will follow three months behind.

With the ARM-comparable RT model aimed at consumers and shipping first, this could explain the WiFi-only strategy out of the gate.

€œMicrosoft may just be betting that consumers don€™t want an additional broadband plan, which would be a barrier to adoption,€ Kay told eWEEK.

With the debut date of the more enterprise-friendly model potentially stretching into early 2013, Microsoft has plenty of time to work on an LTE connection.

"Mobile broadband requires a relationship with carriers," added Kay, "and that€™s another whole bag of snakes that maybe Microsoft doesn€™t want to get into.€

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