It's not great surprise to see a number of MNO announcements about low-cost, small "netbook" PCs with embedded 3G - Vodafone+Dell, and T-Mobile+ Asus/Acer [link in German] in particular. Interestingly, Telecom Italia Mobile has gone the MID route instead.
Regular readers will know that I'm skeptical that what I'm calling "Mobile Broadband Computing" products, sold by carriers with embedded 3G, will amount to much. I think there's a lot of wishful thinking going on, which isn't going to fit with the ways in which customers buy and use computing devices.
One thing I haven't been able to track down yet is whether the mobile broadband contracts for these devices will be have standard flatrate dataplan T's and C's, which prohibit, block (or even charge extra) for applications like VoIP and IM. If they do, the proposition will likely fail even sooner than I anticipated. It would be a very serious mistake indeed.
I can just imagine the marketing pitch - "Get our free laptop with embedded HSPA, and ditch your ADSL service! It's like fixed broadband but better in every way! Only, er, you can't use Skype. Or MSN. Or that IM feature built into FaceBook, although as it's a web service we can't see you using it, anyway".
One thing that MNOs will likely find it tricky to grasp is that in the computing domain, you can always give extra applications to customers - perhaps an SMS client, even IMS RCS - but you can't stop them from using their choice of other software. (Unless you're an enterprise IT administrator... and they are doubly certain in not wanting to have PC applications determined by their carrier).
In any case, I'm just not convinced that end users will want to buy their PCs from a mobile operator - and I suspect that those who are most tempted by "Free Notebook!" offers are probably the most likely to prefer prepaid mobile services rather than another 24-month contract. Or those whose credit cards or banks aren't too keen about providing payment plans for PCs.
I'm definitely of the opinion that some embedded-3G offers are really just about massaging up carriers' apparent data ARPU when in fact all they're doing is simply retail finance masquerading as subsidy. I wonder when we'll see cars with embedded HSPA modules for telematics being sold by MNOs too "Our ARPU is now €450 a month".....
One more passing thought on this - given the numerous horror stories about time/hassle in replacing broken or faulty handsets, do you really fancy leaving your embedded-3G PC, with all your data, at the local phone shop if you have a problem with it 6 months down the road? Or perhaps buying separate PC + dongle is the way to go after all?
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