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Laptop-Embedded Wireless Broadband Closer To Mainstream

New technologies and pricing due by the end of 2008 have the potential to eliminate the problems of embedded wireless 3G notebook purchases, Gartner now suggests.

While notebooks with embedded wireless broadband capability aren't yet ready for everyone, organizations should consider buying them for moderate to extensive travelers in 2009.

The recommendation is a change for the analyst firm, which had said that up-front purchase costs, monthly subscription fees to wireless operators, and the expense of asset protection made it difficult to justify the use of the service in notebooks. However, new pricing plans and better technology prompted Gartner to revise its position.

"Our standing recommendation against embedding wireless WAN (WWAN) cards in notebooks -- except for applications with a clear return-on-investment justification -- has been based on lack of global coverage, high costs, and poor asset protection," Gartner analyst Ken Dulaney said in a statement released Thursday. "However, new technologies and pricing due by the end of 2008 have the potential to eliminate the problems of embedded, wireless 3G notebook purchases."

Historically, average service costs of $600 a year were difficult to justify, given that an embedded wireless wide area network card could become obsolete within two years inside a notebook with a three-year expected life, Gartner said. In addition, roaming charges could drive service costs even higher, if an alternative carrier was even available.

This year, however, new notebook chipsets provide nearly universal geographic coverage and asset protection by promising a three-year useful life, Gartner said. At the same time, carriers are starting to go beyond two-year contracts to include daily and monthly rates, as well as programs that let international travelers use local rates on pay-per-day plans.

Another concern with embedded wireless broadband that's due to be removed is carrier lock-in. "With the new chipsets supporting an array of wireless frequencies and technologies, movement among carriers is limited by the contract terms negotiated by the buyer," Gartner analyst Leslie Fiering said. "This means that buyers no longer have to be locked into one carrier during the life of the notebook, which was the case in the past."

With all the expected changes, 3G, or third generation, cellular networks will become superior from a cost perspective to alternatives, such as Wi-Fi hotspots and hotel-provided broadband connections, Gartner said.

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