Netbooks changing the PC game

Boosted by telco bundles, netbooks are "the only PC segment enjoying growth this year" and forcing big change to the industry, says Canalys.

Thanks to telcos, netbooks are selling so well this year they are making a "profound impact" on the PC industry.

A new report from Canalys said 13.5 million netbooks were sold globally in the first half of 2009, anchored around telco bundling deals, with some 50 operators selling netbooks.

The "only PC segment enjoying growth this year" has attracted a new category of consumer buyer and forced PC vendors to cut costs, because of its lower price point and focus on mobility, the report added.

The biggest change to the industry has been telco involvement, it said. Subsidized netbooks have successfully emulated the mobile phone business model, with the market shares of PC vendors impacted "rapidly" by their success in tying up with telcos, said Canalys.

The massive marketing budgets from telcos have pushed netbooks to the forefront of the public consciousness, with "a prominence never before given to PCs".

"Vendors that are not present in the telco channel are missing out on valuable promotional opportunities," it said.

Tim Coulling, Canalys research analyst, raised the example of Samsung, which has deals with "more than half of the telcos currently selling netbooks" in Europe. This has boosted its profile in the PC industry, he said.

"Meanwhile, traditional notebook category leaders--including Lenovo, Fujitsu, Sony and Toshiba--have been slow to recognize how quickly the market is changing around them and as a group they have signed fewer than 10 operators," he elaborated.

On the telco end, netbooks have helped justify their infrastructure investments in mobile broadband. By pushing data revenues, netbooks are helping push the business case for LTE (long term evolution) investments, he said.

In the Asia-Pacific region, telco tie-ups took about six months longer to happen, but "activity has accelerated, especially in North Asia".

Daryl Chiam, Canalys senior analyst, said: "More than double the number of netbook deals in telcos in August have been observed, [compared to] June.

"We expect to see a rush of new deals across South East Asia and Oceania toward the end of this year."

Another recent report pegged netbook sales at 22.5 percent of all portable laptops sold, up from only 5.6 percent a year ago.

An IDC analyst too said in an earlier interview, telco netbook promotions have helped raise public interest in the device category.

The analyst noted, however, that more netbooks need to come with 3G integrated, in order to boost 3G subscription numbers.