Home & Office

Built-in mobile broadband will take time

Industry move to push embedded broadband connectivity in mobile devices won't see immediate success, says analyst, who adds USB dongles give more flexibility.
Written by Eileen Yu, Senior Contributing Editor

It will take time before an industry campaign to drive embedded mobile broadband connectivity in devices will see any real result, according to research firm Ovum.

Sixteen companies, led by the GSM Association (GSMA), this week unveiled an initiative to champion mobile broadband--primarily HSPA (high speed packet access) technology--support in devices such as laptops. Dubbing it an "unprecedented initiative", the GSMA said the move includes a US$1 billion global marketing spend and endorsement of a new service mark, to be placed on such devices, aimed to help consumers identify these systems as mobile broadband-ready.

Migration to embedded laptops will not occur overnight. Embedded lapops are also more expensive and less flexible than a USB modem.
Steven Hartley, Ovum

In a statement released soon after the GSMA announcement, Ovum's senior analyst Steven Hartley questioned if the initiative was necessary and whether its impact will be significant.

"The GSMA has launched what is essentially an awareness campaign to help drive take-up and use of mobile broadband on laptops and other non-handset type devices. Yet, mobile broadband uptake is already growing rapidly without it," Hartley said. "It could be argued that any promotion is better than nothing, but it looks a lot like the initiative is designed as a defensive move against WiMax branding."

WiMax, which operates on Wi-Fi hotspots, and cellular-based technologies HSPA and LTE (long-term evolution) are seen as competing platforms.

To ensure the Mobile Broadband service mark gains industry-wide support, Hartley said the GSMA must quickly secure the support of other laptop makers such as Hewlett-Packard, Apple, Sony and Fujitsu.

He added that complexity and costs are the biggest barriers for OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) to provide embedded laptop connectivity. The Ovum analyst said the only way to help keep costs low is to increase volume.

Citing figures from the GSMA, he noted that it currently costs about US$70 to offer built-in HSPA capability. This number is expected to fall to US$40 by next year.

Hartley said the US$1 billion marketing fund set aside to drive the campaign could have been better spent as subsidies to drive volumes, and further lower embedding costs by US$100 for 10 million laptops.

However, he said, the initiative does highlight the growing availability of laptops embedded with mobile broadband connectivity. Such devices today are predominantly connected by USB modems, or dongles, he added.

"Nonetheless, migration to embedded laptops will not occur overnight," he noted. "The replacement cycle of a laptop is longer than that of a mobile phone, slowing uptake. Embedded laptops are also more expensive and less flexible than a USB modem. A modem can be pooled for enterprise use, but a laptop is [limited to] per person."

"An operator involved in the initiative told us last week that it believed two thirds of mobile broadband access will still be via modem in two years' time. That means over 30 percent for embedded laptops, a major increase compared to today, but they will remain in the minority."

Editorial standards