Microsoft, GSMA promote 3G laptops

Microsoft and GSMA are promoting the development of laptop PCs with 3G mobile broadband Internet connections built-in.

Microsoft and the GSM Association are promoting 3G (third generation) mobile telecommunications by asking companies to build laptop PCs that automatically connect to the Internet wirelessly over mobile phone networks.

They're hosting a contest challenging companies to design mobile phone-like connectivity into easy-to-use laptops aimed at mainstream users looking for a hassle-free device able to connect them to the Internet wirelessly anytime, anywhere.

These laptops will be aimed at the mass-market consumer laptop PC segment in the US$500 to US$1,000 price range, the GSMA said. The group, a promoter of mobile phone networks and technology, points out that mobile phone networks offer far greater range than competing wireless technologies.

The hope is that mobile phone network operators will work with laptop PC makers to sell the laptops directly to their subscribers in the same way they offer mobile phones today, but the laptop deals would include a mobile broadband Internet access plan from the operator, said David O'Byrne, senior project director at GSMA, in a briefing in Macau during the GSMA Mobile Asia Congress.

The technology has existed for some time. It's the same HSDPA (High-Speed Downlink Packet Access) technology inside chipsets installed in smartphones today. The goal is to get these chipsets into more laptop PCs, said Doug Chambers, senior director of terminals and market expansion at GSMA.

The idea of installing chipsets able to put laptop users on the Internet over mobile phone networks is similar to the way Intel Corp. built Wi-Fi wireless technology into its Centrino chip packages. Wi-Fi is the most popular way for people to access the Internet wirelessly on a laptop PC today, but the technology is limited in its range. Users need to be in close proximity to the Wi-Fi base station they're connected to, whether it be in a coffee shop, airport and other location.

Mobile phone networks have far broader coverage, but mobile broadband technology aimed at laptops is also problematic. Since it's not built into the laptop, users have to take complicated steps to add the function, which the average user likely wouldn't bother with. Most mobile phone network operators sell wireless cards that fit into a slot on a laptop PC, which are sold with a mobile broadband service plan.

But the average person simply doesn't want the hassle of figuring out how to use such cards, or trouble shoot any problems that crop up. "People want an out-of-the-box solution," said Ken Pawlak, director of the mobile operator PCs market expansion group at Microsoft.

The Microsoft Windows Vista OS will work with HSDPA-enabled chipsets already, but mobile phone network operators would have to configure the laptops before selling them a users in order to ensure a smooth experience, said Pawlak.

Six notebook PC makers have already expressed interest in the contest, including Dell, Lenovo, Fujitsu-Siemens, Asustek Computer, Twinhead and Vestel Elektronics. A dozen mobile phone network operators are already behind the scheme, the GSMA said, including Orange, Telefonica O2, Turkcell and Vodafone.

The winner of the laptop competition will be showcased at the GSM Mobile World Congress in Barcelona next February, and be promoted to operators.

Microsoft and the GSMA believe laptop PCs with built-in mobile broadband could more than double sales of consumer laptops in the US$500-$1000 mass market price range. In a study commissioned by the two, Pyramid Research found that as many as 79.5 million [M] such laptop PCs could be sold next year if mobile broadband were added, far more than current estimates for laptops in that price range.

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