Locked up and fancy free

Would you buy a laptop locked to Vodafone's network, or wait for a more open solution?

commentary Prediction: The next year will see laptop vendors and mobile carriers increasingly making eyes at each other in Australia.

Renai LeMay, ZDNet Australia
The tie-ups will come as the likes of Dell, Hewlett-Packard, Optima, Acer and Toshiba realise they're already behind the eight ball in providing machines with embedded 3G wireless broadband.

I'm sure these vendors all class themselves as "innovators", but they've been beaten to the punch by Chinese vendor Lenovo.

The company last week started selling laptops Down Under that could use Vodafone's third-generation (3G) mobile phone network for wireless broadband at up to 384kbps.

Lenovo has obviously realised what Research in Motion has known for some time: employees are increasingly taking their work into a mobile environment.

Intel -- which dominates the laptop market with its Centrino chipset -- is certainly on board with this idea.

The company inked a deal with the GSM Association in February to help laptop manufacturers include SIM card readers and 3G connectivity in PCs.

While you would assume most of the vendors will eventually follow Lenovo's lead, Dell at least is definitely on the scent.

"Delivering expanded wireless connectivity is an important next step for our notebooks but it is not something we've announced in Australia," a spokesperson for the company told your writer yesterday.

He noted Dell was currently offering wireless broadband as an option in the US, UK and some European countries.

"We'll be reviewing providers in each region to select the right telco(s) to partner with," the spokesperson concluded.

While it'll be great to see Lenovo get some more competition, the more pressing issue for customers will be what form that competition will take.

Lenovo told your writer it has locked its new laptops so they can only be used on Vodafone's network.

This is obviously not a desirable feature for customers wanting to keep their future network options open, and is exactly the problem that analyst group Gartner warned about when Intel signed the GSM deal in February.

"We recommend buying laptops and mobile connectivity separately," said a Gartner research note at the time. ZDNet Australia's sister site Silicon.com published an excerpt including Gartner's advice.

"For most businesses, add-on cards are a better investment and provide much more flexibility than integrated systems," the note continued.

We'll have to wait and see if more vendors follow Lenovo's constrictive lead.

Would you buy a laptop locked to Vodafone's network, or would you prefer to wait for a more open solution? E-mail me directly at renai.lemay@zdnet.com.au.

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