AT&T offers wireless discounts to business customers for iPad + 3G models

Move is seen as way to compete with Verizon

AT&T announced Friday that it will sell all three iPad Wi-Fi + 3G models directly to business customers at a discount for wireless service starting Oct. 28. The news comes one day after AT&T announced in-store sales of the popular tablet.

"This new offer further strengthens AT&T's commitment to provide businesses with the tools they need to accelerate mobility-led productivity," said Michael Antieri, president of advanced enterprise mobility solutions for AT&T's business solutions unit.

AT&T said it would offer "attractive post-paid mobile broadband price plans" but did not elaborate. The offer is available only to customers whose AT&T wireless bills are paid for by their employer.

There is no question that iPads are being used in business, medical and retail settings by workers of all kinds, and many companies don't need 3G cellular capability at all, noted Jack Gold, an analyst at J.Gold Associates. "If you are in a hospital or store, you don't need 3G, just Wi-Fi," he said.

Baron Funds in New York, for example, has about 50 analysts using the devices mainly to read reports over the firm's Wi-Fi network.

Still, Gold agreed that AT&T will sell to companies that want discounts for 3G service and whose workers want the iPad. Many of these workers travel for business and need access outside of Wi-Fi, he said.

Gold said AT&T has probably been selling the 3G version of the iPad to businesses directly but recently formalized the process, announcing it today to prepare for further competition from Verizon Wireless, which begins selling the Wi-Fi iPad bundled with its MiFi mobile hot-spot device on Oct. 28 as well.

"AT&T is jockeying for position with this announcement against Verizon, since this is going to be a very hot, competitive market," Gold said. Verizon will sell the iPad bundled with MiFi in stores but is likely to take that offer directly to businesses, too, he said.

AT&T's offer of a corporate discount will not be for the hardware, but for the wireless service, which is commonplace for carriers selling in volume to corporations. Gold said the discount could be more than 10%, although it depends on the volume.

Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed. His e-mail address is mhamblen@computerworld.com.

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