Thursday, April 13, 2006

Dean Bubley: 3G-embedded laptops.... I'm not convinced

Dean Bubley posts at Disruptive Wireless why he thinks it doesn't make sense for laptops to ship "with a mobile operator's HSDPA or EV-DO card embedded." He asks "who on earth is going to want to buy a laptop that locks them into a specific service provider and a contract? Especially one that has patchy (at best) indoor coverage, and in most cases hasn't yet got the whole "quad-play" or "multi-access" thing sorted?" Bubley brings up some interesting points from an enterprise perspective:

While some users are truly nomadic, most business people will use their PCs in the office a lot of the time. Where the preference from the IT staff (and users) will be to hook into the office LAN, either via a nice 100Mbit/s zero-latency ethernet wire, or via the increasingly secure and reliable office WLAN, designed for decent capacity and coverage through the building. So the connection management software (presumably customised by the operator) will need to support an algorithm that says "use the fixed LAN as a first priority, then the company's private WLAN if available, then public WLAN, and finally 3G when out of the office". I'm skeptical that many operators will be keen to set things up that way.

Especially if you're paying per megabyte or anything other than completely uncapped flatrate charges. I can just imagine the idea of paying $$$ to access your data, from your server, in your basement, when you're sitting in your office on your PC. Or whether the connection manager will be smart enough to stop you automatically downloading 10MB of email or virus updates when you’re roaming internationally at $$$$$$ per meg? Or if your backup software decides to back up your hard drive on schedule, over cellular. And I wonder how well this will work with company-mandated security and authentication software? It's bad enough that you end up using expensive cellular voice in-building when's there a "free" PBX phone next to you. CIOs and CFOs already hate this enough to clamour for dual-mode WiFi phones before vendors have them ready. The idea that they'll be happy to let you use expensive cellular data in-building when there's a much faster & more reliable LAN next to you (or wireless) is ludicrous.
From a consumer perspective, Bubley thinks operator subsidies will be required and says "nobody buys a PC with a bundled ISP deal, wireless or otherwise. People tried the whole "free PC" thing years ago & it failed. At best, you get a few months free & a couple of CDs in the box. Oh, and while various laptop suppliers seem happy to have their PCs subsidised by carriers, has anyone thought what this is likely to do to inventory costs for retailers? I can just imagine PC World’s CFO being told he needs to expand his warehouse to accommodate 5 different operator-specific versions of each PC, or that he needs to get his staff to customise each with specific operator SIMs and software." Bubley concludes that:
Maybe I'm missing something obvious. But while I'm happy to have a T-Mobile customised MDA, I want to buy my laptop "vanilla" from Samsung or Dell and use it how I want, with whichever service provider I want.