Ben Freshwater asks:

Do you really need a tablet computer with mobile data? It seems that the majority of people who would take their tablet out of a Wi-Fi area would most likely have a smartphone which they could turn into a hotspot. What benefits are there to having a dedicated mobile data plan for a tablet rather than using a hotspot off another mobile device?

Do You Really Need a Mobile Data Plan for Your Tablet?Great question! In many cases — especially if you have a smartphone with a data plan — it may seem that there is no real benefit to having a dedicated data plan for your tablet or laptop. After all, why pay for something more than once? If you can simply share your smartphone’s mobile Internet connection with your tablet or laptop via tethering the devices, why subscribe to two (or more) data plans?

Well, there are a few reasons many opt for separate data plans, actually. Aside from the pure convenience of having a dedicated Internet connection always available to each device, having separate data plans can sometimes save consumers money. No, really, I’m serious. Most mobile phone carriers charge extra to enable tethering, and also charge hefty penalty fees when customers use more than their smartphone’s data plan permits. So depending on each individual’s (or family’s) usage pattern, some consumers actually find it less expensive having separate data plans for each of their devices. It’s a formula each consumer has to work out for herself, anticipating what her needs will be and judging — or guessing, really — whether it would be more or less prudent to go with dedicated data plans.

By the way, last year the Federal Communications Commission ruled against Verizon’s tethering charges. That is, new Verizon customers can no longer be charged for using their smartphones as mobile hotspots. Note my use of the word new, however, existing Verizon customers may continue paying the extra charge for tethering. Why would they choose to do so, you ask? Because they may be benefiting from a higher data usage limit, at a lower cost, than they would if they choose to switch to one of Verizon’s newer data plans. Other carriers haven’t been blocked from continuing to charge customers for tethering, however, so AT&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile customers generally pay extra charges to use their smartphones as hotspots for their tablets. Generally, but not always.

There is another problem that goes with tethering: battery drainage. Regardless of your intentions, sometimes you forget to charge your smartphone or tablet. Tethering drains your tablet or smartphone batteries quickly. Though you can always tote around an extra battery or two if it’s a laptop you’re tethering to your smartphone, many tablets (such as the most popular one, the iPad) don’t even enable consumers to swap out batteries. In such a case, you might find a mobile hotspot device to be less taxing on your battery (or on your back, if you’re carrying around laptop batteries). Mobile hotspot devices are usually a more expensive solution than tethering, but for people on the move who absolutely need to preserve as much battery power as possible, the dedicated devices can provide what’s required.

Does anyone else have an opinion about this they’d like to share, or a question they’d like to ask us? Feel free to ask us what you need to know!