High prices holding back 3G laptops

Laptops with embedded broadband connectivity need to be made available at lower prices, the GSM Association and Microsoft have argued

The GSM Association has launched a competition to find new broadband-enabled laptops that can appeal to the mass market.

The mobile industry association and Microsoft have conducted a study which suggested a 70-million-unit-strong market for notebooks that have built-in connectivity using technologies such as 3G or WiMax. However, they claim this demand is not being met due to a combination of inappropriate form factors and high prices.

"With the right form factor, price and 'out-of-the-box' connectivity, the research has unearthed substantial demand for mobile broadband embedded notebooks that is not yet being met," said the GSMA's chief executive, Rob Conway, on Monday. "Now that we understand the market potential and consumers' requirements, we are pleased to communicate the findings to the broader industry eco-system."

"By quantifying and characterising PC market demand, it is our hope that mobile operators and OEMs will collaborate to introduce compelling and affordable notebooks with innovative new services," added Will Poole, corporate vice president of the Unlimited Potential Group at Microsoft.

According to the GSMA, manufacturers such as Asus, Dell, Fujitsu Siemens and Lenovo have already expressed interest in taking up the challenge presented by the research, which was conducted by Pyramid Research through more than 12,000 consumer interviews in 13 countries.

This interest is being spurred on by a competition, run by the GSMA, to find which new devices and manufacturers will best fill the perceived gap in the embedded-broadband laptop market. Entries close on 30 December and the winner will be announced at the Mobile World Congress (previously known as 3GSM) in Barcelona next February. The judging panel will comprise representatives of leading operators from around the world, including Orange, Vodafone and O2.

The price point being targeted by the initiative lies between $500-$1,000 (£242-£483). Most current laptops with built-in 3G tend to be highly specified and expensive, despite a recent push by companies such as Intel to see wireless broadband connectivity built into more and more notebooks.

However, it has been argued by some — most recently, the business connectivity firm iPass — that the rapid pace of development in the wireless space makes it a more prudent option for businesses to use external cards and modems, rather than being stuck with a fleet of laptops using outmoded technology.