Big guns explore potential for 3G notebooks

Industry body the GSM Association (GSMA) announced a collaboration with Microsoft on Tuesday, to research consumer trends and the mass market potential for notebook PCs with embedded 3G mobile broadband.The partnership aims to assess the opportunities to drive growth beyond business users to the majority consumer and small business users who need connectivity on the move. The GSMA also believes there is tremendous potential to stimulate further connectivity in emerging markets, where fixed line access is hard to come by and mobile networks may be the most cost efficient way to provide broadband internet access.Through the GSMA, 13 mobile operators are participating in the research: Telefonica/O2; AT&T Mobility; China Mobile; DTAC; Maxis; MTN; Orange; SingTel; Smart Communications; TeliaSonera; Turkcell; Vodafone; and Wind.The GSMA has been one of the leading forces behind an industry wide initiative to facilitate and drive the adoption of mobile broadband in notebooks. The organisation’s involvement started with a partnership with chip vendor Intel early in 2006 and gave way to the publication of guidelines prescribing a common approach for PC manufacturers to integrate HSDPA 3G into their product ranges in October.The latest collaboration will begin with a global market research study including field trials conducted by Pyramid Research that aims to quantify mass market PC buyer interest in mobile broadband. “Following the success of our initial program to infuse the notebook market with mobile connectivity, we are delighted to be working with Microsoft to initially understand the scale of the opportunity for mobile broadband enabled PCs in the mass market,” said Rob Conway, CEO of the GSMA. “Understanding the market size and customers’ requirements is the first step towards developing devices to meet those requirements.” But some industry watchers have been critical of laptops featuring embedded 3G, warning consumers and businesses to hold off at least until High Speed Uplink Packet Access (HSUPA) is available. Following the GSMA’s previous announcement, Nick Jones, VP and distinguished analyst at Gartner said: “Is it a good idea to buy a laptop with embedded 3G? Not unless you’re planning to throw it away or shell out for an upgrade in a year or so.”The analyst argues that HSDPA is not yet fast enough to replace a broadband connection and as faster chips hit the market, newer machines may offer better downlink speeds on the same network. “HSUPA is attractive because it will be the first time that GSM networks can provide a service approximately equivalent to fixed broadband in both directions. But the HSDPA network hardware built into the laptop you buy today won’t be able to exploit it,” said Jones. “So you either have to buy a new laptop or upgrade it somehow.”

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