Microsoft is positioning Always-Connected PCs as the future of business devices

Microsoft is stepping up its campaign to get more Windows 10 PCs with built-in LTE connectivity into the hands of business users.
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor

These days, Windows PCs with built-in cellular connectivity are still fairly rare. But Microsoft is on a campaign to change this, especially in the business space.

Credit: Microsoft

During Microsoft's WinHEC (Windows Hardware Engineering Conference) 2018 events in Taipei and Shenzhen over the past couple of weeks, Microsoft execs have been evangelizing so-called "Always Connected" devices.

Always Connected devicesare ARM and Intel mobile PCs with LTE cellular networking built-in which may use either SIM or eSIM technology for managing that connectivity. Though the majority of PCs from Microsoft itself and its PC partners still don't come with LTE built-in, Microsoft execs say they are anticipating this will change.

Microsoft's Surface Go two-in-one laptop with LTE built-in is scheduled for release before the end of this calendar year, last we've heard. And recently, Lenovo unveiled the first PC running the Snapdragon 850 chip, its Yoga C630 WOS. Last week, Samsung followed suite with the Snapdragon 850-based Galaxy Book2. Qualcomm has made one of the main selling points of the Snapdragon 850 its improved LTE speeds, saying the new processor will speed things up by 20 percent.

When Microsoft first began touting the first Windows 10-on-ARM devices from its OEM partners last summer, officials treated Always Connected PCs as a unique category. But that narrative is shifting, said Erin Chapple, Corporate Vice President of Windows Server, Always Connected PCs and OS Platform Technologies.

"A 'modern device,' now, to us, is an Always Connected PC," she said.

Constant connectivity becomes part of what Microsoft is advising its OEMs to build into new devices, the same way it espouses Windows Hello, far-field voice recognition and more, Chapple noted.

The company also is starting to get serious about pushing connected computing as not just a consumer nicety, but as a business necessity, Chapple said. "It's still important to talk to consumers (about connected computing)," she said, "but the future opportunity ahead is commercial."

(That said, Microsoft recently published a new page about LTE connectivity aimed at consumers.)

Microsoft's pitch to businesses is that built-in LTE networking will allow them to shift to "network as a service," rather than having to set up and run their own custom networks, Chapple said. Access to fast, reliable cellular networks as part of their computing experience will alow them to skip using untrusted public networks, she added.

Always Connected PCs were just one of the tracks covered at WinHEC. Other tracks included Windows Server 2019; Windows 10 in S Mode; security: fundamentals: such as AutoPilot, Modern Standby, etc.; and the intelligent edge. For the first time at WinHEC, women in tech was also a big emphasis.

Speaking of Windows 10 in S Mode, which Microsoft has been working to get OEMs to ship on PCs -- especially Always Connected ones -- there will be a new requirement in Windows 10 1809 (the October Update) for Windows 10 Pro in S Mode devices. Devices running Pro in S Mode will be required to have Internet Connectivity as an out-of-the-box requirement, and will require users to log in with Azure Active Directory if those devices are enrolled in AutoPilot, as officials noted at the Microsoft Ignite IT pro conference.

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