Cellular Network Cards Miss Market Opportunity - InformationWeek

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Commentary
4/22/2009
09:27 AM
Ed Hansberry
Ed Hansberry
Commentary
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Cellular Network Cards Miss Market Opportunity

Sprint has released their new 2-in-1 Aircard 402. The card works in both a PCMCIA II slot or the newer ExpressCard slot. For someone that may have multiple laptops to work with, this may be very handy. As I look at my netbook though, an Acer Aspire One, maybe not so much.

Sprint has released their new 2-in-1 Aircard 402. The card works in both a PCMCIA II slot or the newer ExpressCard slot. For someone that may have multiple laptops to work with, this may be very handy. As I look at my netbook though, an Acer Aspire One, maybe not so much.More laptops are coming without card slots, especially those in the netbook class where space is a premium and costs are kept to a minimum. Years ago, the size and number of PCMCIA card slots was critical as you needed those for your modem, Ethernet port and later, WiFi cards. Now all of this is built in and many card slots go unused, especially in consumer based devices. Yes, those that need full time internet access anywhere may opt for a cellular data card from their provider, but many people opt for the USB dongle since it will work with any laptop or desktop.

I am not sure the USB dongle is really necessary though. Phone companies already sell a device that will allow any PC to get online - the cell phone itself. Either via Bluetooth or USB, you can hook many cell phones up and they can be your high speed network link for your computer if it weren't for the fact that many carriers block this feature, known as tethering.

I am not sure why the carriers, rather than blocking tethering, don't embrace it. It could still be an addon feature with a monthly fee similar to what they charge now, or a 24 hour usage fee of $4.99 or similar for the occasional user. Since there would be no hardware to buy, other than possibly a phone upgrade to get one that supports the feature, the usage from people that only needed to get online where no other network was available a few times a month could skyrocket, generating revenues for the carriers that would far surpass whatever profit they make on the hardware cards. An additional benefit for the user is there is one less piece of hardware to carry around, install drivers for or worry about compatibility with the card interface on their laptop.

There is clearly a demand for this from the consumer. Apple has had to banish tethering apps from their App Store at the behest of AT&T, and I see tons of questions from users on how to enable tethering on their phone. Windows Mobile supports it natively through a feature called Internet Sharing. Often though the carrier may either remove the feature before selling the phone or simply block the feature when the user tries to activate it.

That is a shame, because I think there is a huge opportunity here that the carriers are missing out on.

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