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Tuesday, September 09, 2008

3G-embedded vs. 3G-embeddable notebooks

The world and his blog seems to have gone crazy over Dell's cute new Mini 9 netbook, which stacks up against the Asus eeePC and HP 2133 and a range of other upcoming mini-notebooks.

However, there is much disappointment in the US that the device won't necessarily come with 3G built-in, unlike Vodafone's loudly-trumpeted version for Europe.

I think this is something we'll see more of. I've been doing a lot of research lately on 3G-embedded notebooks and mobile broadband, and the simple fact of the matter is that (for now) it makes no economic sense to include a 3G module and antenna in a PC unless it's definitely going to be used for a mobile subscription. Otherwise it's just a costly lump of extra electronics - not ideal for consumer or retailer, and which would hurt the competitiveness of the PC in the marketplace.

At the top end of the market, 3G might start to become a "standard" feature, but if you're trying to sell a $300 low-end netbook with $50+ worth of unused tin inside, it won't make your gross margin look very pretty.

What we'll see is many notebooks coming with the possibility of 3G being embedded for specific markets and specific channels (ie mobile operators who want to sell/subsidise it), just the same as the laptop coming with the possibility of extra memory, or a red casing, or different preloaded OS and applications. (And no prizes for guessing that the slot might support a variety of other comms modules in future - perhaps WiMAX, EVDO, or one of Qualcomm's multi-standard Gobi's).

There might also be some clever ways of OEMs retrospectively paying (or getting a bounty) for the cost of a module if it's activated at some date after purchase, but I can't see that being too common a business model in the near term.

In other words, theoretically 3G-embeddable notebooks will be much more prevalent than actual 3G-embedded ones for the next few years at least.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

sorry, but isn't embedding wimax into the chips the strategy for intel? 3G operators ignoring this may be surprised...