How to Get Internet Access for Your Tablet

Pamela is a member of The Motley Fool Blog Network -- entries represent the personal opinion of the blogger and are not formally edited.

In a previous article I talked about choosing a tablet.  Now, we'll address how to best get internet access.  What is best for you depends on several things.  First and foremost, do you really need internet access everywhere you go?  Do you already have a home computer?  If not, can you borrow one?  Do you have a broadband internet connection already at home?  I will explore your options for each of these situations and suggest the best option for you.


Would You Like Cellular with That?

First, do you need cellular? That depends on two main things:

      1. Whether you must have internet access everywhere and,

      2. How you are going to access the internet at home.

If your answer to the first question is Yes, then you must have cellular for your tablet.  Note--even if you don't think you need internet access everywhere, some features or apps that you least expect, may require it.  For example, I only recenty found out that the dictation feature on the i-Pad does NOT work without an internet connection. 

However, if you just want to be able to read things you have found on the internet offline, there are free apps, such as Pocket, that allow you to download articles to read when you are not connected to the internet. So, maybe your answer to question #1, is No. But, we still have to address internet access at home.


Basic Necessities at Home—Internet Access

There are two ways to get internet access for your tablet at home. Get a cellular-equipped tablet and sign up with a cellular provider like Verizon (NYSE: VZ)or AT&T (NYSE: T) or get broadband internet service from your cable or telephone company and buy a home router. 

For the cellular option, the monthly charge from AT&T, for example, ranges from $15 to $50/month depending on the amount of data you download a month. Data are emails, videos, web pages (surfing the web), etc. To help you decide, here's a data calculator. If this is your first experience using the internet, you may not know what to enter. Let's assume that every day, you receive 60 text only emails, 10 emails with photos attached, surf 50 web pages and view 10 minutes of streaming video. Your estimated monthly usage would be about 1 GB. This may seem like a lot, but it is very easy to accumulate lots of emails, especially if you sign up for newsletters, alerts, etc. Viewing 50 web pages takes no time. If you are shopping for something, you could easily view 10 or more pages in just a few minutes. Since 1 GB is more than the lowest price plan, you will need the mid-range plan for $30/month, which provides 3 GB of data. If you only have one device accessing the internet, this may be your best option.

Broadband access starts at about $45/month and increases in price for faster download speeds. For most people, 10 Mbps download speed is sufficient. You either have to buy or rent a broadband modem. I have Comcast (NASDAQ: CMCSA) and setup was easy.  You can pick up your equipment at your local office or have it shipped to your home for $10. Phone support is free. In home setup is additional. The advantage of broadband access at home instead of cellular, is that you can have as many devices as you like attached to the internet at the same time at no additional cost. But, you will need a router even if you will have only one device connected to the internet.

If you already have a home computer (desktop or laptop) with broadband internet access and you don't need internet access everywhere you go, your cheapest option is to buy a home router.


Choosing a Router and Setting It Up 

A router is simply a device that allows you to access the internet without being physically attached to a cable or DSL modem and to access the internet on more than one device at a time.

I wanted to be able to use my devices anywhere in our house and outside on the deck and still have at least 3 out of 5 bars (good) signal strength.  So, I bought a Netgear (NASDAQ: NTGR) N600 Wireless Dual Band Router which I got at Staples (NASDAQ: SPLS) for $70. It comes with a stand and sits on a shelf like a book. It is considered a “high performance” router because of its range.

You should choose as central a location in your home as possible for the router to maximize signal strength everywhere. Netgear's new Netgear Genie can be downloaded onto most devices and allows you to manage your network (add new devices, add parental controls, etc.), but YOU MUST have a computer to initially set up the router. (Note: Netgear Genie for Android devices, is only available from Google Play and only supported devices work with Google Play.) If your tablet doesn't work with Google Play, you can live without Netgear Genie.

There are dozens and dozens of messages on internet boards from people trying to set up a router without a computer. It cannot be done. 

If you don't own a computer, don't want one and can't borrow one, you still have options. Staples' Easy Tech service will set up your router in your home for $89.99 and the tech will bring a laptop along if you alert them that you don't have a computer. Best Buy's Geek Squad may offer the same service and if you buy your router from them, they will cut $20 off their installation charge, lowering it to $69.99.

Worried that someone will sit outside your house and access your internet connection? Don't be. My Netgear router requires entry of a 12 character security key to permit new devices to access the internet.


Bottom Line

When choosing how you will access the internet, first decide whether you really need internet access wherever you go.  If so, you will need a cellular provider.  If not, a home broadband connection will work fine.  If you don't play games online or watch a lot of steaming movies, you don't need download speeds greater than 10 Mbps, so choose your internet plan accordingly.  Unless you live in an apartment or small, one-story home, don't buy the cheapest router, get a high performance router so you'll have good signal strength everywhere in your home.  If you don't have a home computer, go to Staples or Best Buy and see what they can do for you.  Do this before you buy a router to get the best price on router installation.

p366 has no positions in the stocks mentioned above. The Motley Fool owns shares of Staples. Motley Fool newsletter services recommend Netgear and Staples. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy. If you have questions about this post or the Fool’s blog network, click here for information.

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