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8/11/2009
04:30 PM
Marin Perez
Marin Perez
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HP To Offer Prepaid Netbooks

Hewlett-Packard is throwing an interesting new twist to the netbook market, as the company will offer Japanese customers computers that can use prepaid mobile data via a SIM card slot. This is a pretty stark contrast to what most carriers are trying to do, and I think it's the best model for increasing mobile data usage.

Hewlett-Packard is throwing an interesting new twist to the netbook market, as the company will offer Japanese customers computers that can use prepaid mobile data via a SIM card slot. This is a pretty stark contrast to what most carriers are trying to do, and I think it's the best model for increasing mobile data usage.HP said it will be purchasing airtime and data from DoCoMo, and it will be reselling the mobile data as a mobile virtual network operator. The company hasn't released too many details on the specific devices, but these could include computers, netbooks, and touch-screen tablets that the user can pop a SIM card into for Internet connectivity. HP said its initial computers will cost between $50 and $100, and this will come with 100 free minutes of service, and then users can purchase more time as needed. These netbooks will also have Wi-Fi, so customers can just hop onto any available hotspot for Internet access.

I sincerely like the pay-as-you-go approach for mobile data with netbooks because I feel it is the best approach for how these things will be used. Ideally, I'd love to just pay my carrier once for my "unlimited" data plan on my smartphone, and be able to tether when I need to, but I know that's not in the cards for the near future. Most of the writing on the wall suggests the carriers are going to be big sellers of netbooks, but I'm still not convinced the consumer demand is there for their subsidy model. Sure, you can get a Compaq Mini for less than the price of a Big Mac, but you're locked into a two-year deal for about $60 per month. Most of these machines cost less than $400 to buy outright, so I'm still not getting the appeal.

I know the subsidy model has been prevalent with cell phones and smartphones, but I don't think the usage patterns for netbooks are the same. Except for the mobile professional, most people don't need always-on Internet connectivity for their netbook as they'll have Internet at home, or can go to a free Wi-Fi hotspot. For those using the 3G connection as their sole source of Internet, the 5 GB monthly limit will severely limit what they can do, as well as lead to some whopping bills if they go over the cap. There's also the fact that many of these netbooks utilized embedded modems, so you lose the flexibility of having an air card or a device like the MiFi.

Japan has had thousands of mobile device innovations that haven't left the island in a significant way, so there's a good chance this model never hits the United States. Of course, the pricing for HP's data would also have to be reasonable, but I would be extremely interested in someone trying this in my neck of the woods.

Virgin Mobile does offer some form of prepaid mobile broadband, but it doesn't include a computer, their prices are a bit steep, and your allotment of data actually expires if you don't use it within the allotted time. Any thoughts on prepaid mobile data? Feel free to leave a comment here, drop me an e-mail at [email protected], or tweet me @marinperez.

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