Microsoft Pushes Mobile Phone Networks For Notebook PCs - InformationWeek

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Microsoft Pushes Mobile Phone Networks For Notebook PCs

Microsoft and the GSM Association say consumers want notebooks with built-in technology for accessing the Internet over a cell phone network.

Microsoft and the GSM Association, a global trade group for the mobile industry, are urging computer makers and wireless carriers to work together in developing and selling notebooks with built-in technology for accessing the Internet over a cell phone network.

In promoting what would be as close to ubiquitous Internet access as possible, Microsoft and the GSMA published on Tuesday a study conducted by Pyramid Research that showed the majority of consumers would want such a notebook, if it fell within the $500 to $1,000 price range. If PC makers and wireless carriers worked together, such mobile PCs could fetch tens of billions of dollars each year in hardware sales, according to the study.

The majority of consumers today have limited access to wireless broadband. Most connections are over Wi-Fi stations at home, the office, or in public places like cafes.

The Microsoft and GSMA study, which included 12,000 consumer interviews across 13 countries, showed that 88% of the respondents who planned to buy a notebook for less than $1,000 would prefer mobile broadband built-in. The study found that such notebooks could result in a sales boost of 46.5 million units in 2008. Next year, manufacturers plan to ship about 33 million notebooks in the mainstream price range, with only a fraction mobile-broadband ready.

The revenue opportunity goes beyond computer makers, since carriers could make a profit by selling the notebooks much like they do mobile phones today. Wireless carriers also would sell service plans that would be in addition to mobile phone service.

Microsoft and the GSMA claim PC manufacturers have expressed interest in working with operators on developing such Internet-enabled notebooks. They include Dell, Fujitsu Siemens, Lenovo, Twinhead, and Vestel.

A dozen mobile operators also have come out in support of the idea, including DTAC, Maxis, MTN, Orange, Smart Communications, Telecom Italia, Telefónica O2, TeliaSonera, Turkcell, VimpelCom, Vodafone, and Wind.

To get the ball rolling, Microsoft and GSMA have launched a contest in which manufacturers can submit designs for easy-to-use, mass-market, mobile-broadband notebooks. The winner of the PC design would be announced at the wireless industry's Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, in February. The winner also would be showcased at the conference.

From a technology standpoint, mobile-broadband PCs would need to have built-in chipsets that support the 3G mobile telephony communications protocol called high-speed downlink packet access, or HSDPA. Such technology is available in smartphones today, or on separate cards that can be plugged into a notebook.

Verizon, AT&T, and other carriers offer notebook cards and mobile-broadband access. The service, however, is expensive, costing about $60 or more a month.

For carriers to reach a mass market, prices would have to drop to about $10 a month, Samir Bhavnani, analyst for Current Analysis West, told InformationWeek. In addition, carriers would have to be prepared for a dramatic increase in traffic if the service took off.

Today, even with only a fraction of notebook users accessing the Web through a mobile-phone network, "real-life" speeds are less than broadband over Wi-Fi. "The reality of the situation is when you're using a [mobile] broadband network the speed is good enough," Bhavnani said. "It's good enough to get on the Web and do some things, but it's not the same experience as you have at home or in the office."

If carriers improved the service and lowered prices, then mobile broadband could take off among notebook users, Bhavnani said. "If they can find that critical mass at $10 or $15 a month and get millions of computers on the network, then the dollars we're talking about would be huge."

The Micrsoft/GSMA study found that 60% of the respondents would buy a voice and data package with their mobile-broadband notebook. Only 15%, however, were willing to buy a separate plug-in for their notebook to connect to a carrier's network. As to the size of notebooks, 9-inch to 15-inch PCs were favored by 75% of consumers.

The greatest demand for mobile-broadband notebooks was in the Asia Pacific region, where 57% of the respondents wanted such a device. In North America, the number was 15%, and in Western Europe 11%.

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