Netbooks get boost with telco deals

Operators' netbook giveaways for mobile broadband sign-ups have moved netbook units, but not had much impact on 3G subscriptions, says analyst.
Written by Victoria Ho, Contributor

The recent spate of netbook and mobile broadband bundles have had a positive impact on netbook sales, but until more netbooks come with mobile broadband capabilities integrated, these promotions may not do much to increase 3G subscriptions, an IDC analyst said.

In Singapore, all three telcos have been running promotions this year giving away netbooks to new mobile broadband sign-ups.

Reuben Tan, senior research manager, personal systems research, IDC Asia-Pacific, told ZDNet Asia in a phone interview, the promotions have helped boost the volume of netbook shipments in the country, as well as raised public interest in the device category.

"Netbooks are a new form factor, not many people have one yet," said Tan. More people have desktops and laptop PCs, so netbooks' emphasis on mobility helps fill a void in the market, he said.

On the flip side, however, the netbook bundles may not have had a great impact on mobile broadband subscriptions.

Telcos have for years been running such deals offering laptops. Replacing the devices with netbooks is no different, from a subscription point of view, said Tan.

According to IDC figures, only 10 percent of netbooks sold in the first quarter of 2009 featured integrated 3G capabilities. "That figure needs to grow, in order for mobile broadband to take off in the mainstream," noted the analyst.

Telcos should emphasize the advantages of mobile broadband over traditional Wi-Fi connectivity, added Tan. "People think Wi-Fi is good enough, but with 3G you get the benefit of being always-connected--useful when you're downloading a file.

"Telcos did not push this [message] in the past."

Consumer awareness of netbooks on the rise
The telcos and device makers ZDNet Asia spoke to said the promotions have been well-received.

M1's debut netbook promotion was in December 2007 with the Fujitsu U1010 device. This year, it offered four netbook models from LG, Fujitsu and Dell.

A spokesperson said the "high level of customer interest" and expected release of new models will see M1 continue to offer such bundles.

LG said its promotion with the telco increased sales volumes of its bundled model by 5 percent, and provided good publicity for its netbooks.

Asus, too said its SingTel promotion helped increase awareness of its netbooks. While its Eee PC 901 device was exclusive to SingTel during the promotional period, mainstream sales remained "satisfactory" after it was subsequently released to the market.

IDC's Tan said Singapore registered 45,000 units of netbooks in the first quarter of this year. During the same period last year, it was only 6,000 with the Asus Eee PC as the only model offered then.

As of the last quarter of 2008, 36,000 units were shipped.

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