Tech giants unite to promote mobile broadband

Under the auspices of the GSM Association, 16 companies, including Microsoft, Dell and Vodafone, have announced plans to support LTE connectivity in upcoming devices

A group of 16 mobile operators and device manufacturers have come out in support of LTE (the long-term evolution of 3G), jointly announcing plans to support cellular data connectivity in upcoming devices.

In a statement released on Tuesday via the GSM Association, members of the group, made up of mobile operators, PC and chipset manufacturers, said they will pre-install "always-connected" capability in new devices, providing a "compelling alternative to Wi-Fi".

The announcement comes in the wake of industry debate over LTE and WiMax, which are seen as competing technologies. WiMax relies on wireless hotspots and is similar to Wi-Fi technology, while LTE transmits data over cellular networks. Touted as the successor to 'super-2G' HSPA (high-speed packet access) technologies, LTE is an all-IP 3G-based standard.

The 16 launch participants are: Asus, Dell, ECS, Ericsson, Gemalto, Lenovo, Microsoft, Orange, Qualcomm, Telefonica Europe, Telecom Italia, TeliaSonera, T-Mobile, Toshiba and Vodafone.

These companies will participate in the first wave of product releases, involving mostly notebooks, said the GSM Association, which introduced a service mark that manufacturers can place on such 'ready to run' devices, so they can be easily recognised by consumers.

The trade group said the 'Mobile Broadband' service mark is "backed by a global media spend of more than $1bn (£562m) in the next year", and underscores the industry's seriousness about cellular broadband.

It added that these Mobile Broadband-tagged devices will work in 91 countries, and "several hundred thousand notebooks" are expected in shops by the end of the year.

The GSM Association added that the second wave of releases will encompass other devices, ranging from cameras to refrigerators and cars, but did not state when this phase would begin.

Shiv K Bakhshi, director of mobility research at IDC, said in the release: "While there will always be a place for Wi-Fi connectivity, the great merit of mobile broadband might be that it liberates the user from the spatial tyranny of the so-called 'hotspot'."

Last week, one of the launch vendors, Asus, also announced HSPA capability for its ultraportable Eee PC 901 netbook. The device will be released in October.

Asus's announcement came soon after Sprint Nextel announced its US commercial launch of WiMax, which is expected to potentially cover 140 million consumers by the end of 2010.