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Embedded 3G on the cards for notebooks

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Embedded wireless broadband (3G) capability for laptops has been difficult for enterprises to justify because of upfront purchase costs, monthly costs and asset protection, but new pricing plans and technology evolution will force changes in strategy. 

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," says Ken Dulaney, vice-president and distinguished analyst at Gartner. "However, new technologies and pricing due by the end of 2008 have the potential to eliminate the problems of embedded, wireless 3G notebook purchases."
Gartner analysts say organisations can consider embedded 3G in new notebook purchases for moderate to extensive travellers in 2009.
"Various influencing factors are transitioning to a point where embedded 3G will become superior from a cost perspective compared with previously used alternatives, such as WiFi 'hot spots' and hotel broadband for wide-area use," says Leslie Fiering, research vice-president at Gartner.
Historically, embedded WWANs have been tied to specific technologies and service providers, meaning that users could not just swap cards out when they moved to an area not covered by a certain carrier. Ongoing service costs at an average estimate of $600 a year were difficult to justify, and roaming charges could drive costs even higher.
Additionally, the tremendous churn in WWAN technologies and frequencies could make a WWAN card obsolete within two years inside a notebook with a three-year expected life.
New technologies and pricing structures are set to change this. Chipsets that combine multiple technologies and frequencies can provide nearly universal geographic coverage and asset protection by promising a three-year useful life. At the same time, carriers are beginning to recognise the value of going beyond two-year contracts to include daily and monthly rates, as well as programs for letting international travellers use local rates on pay-per-day plans.
Gartner analysts say these changes will not only provide better economic justification and asset protection for embedding wireless 3G technologies in notebooks by the end of 2008, but also may help justify wider deployments of the cards in the interim. Essentially, these plans would work in a manner similar to visiting a Wi-Fi hot spot, where the user would see a web page pop-up, enter a credit card and be online. But unlike WiFi, the provider would be the same throughout any particular country.
"Users have three choices," says Dulaney. "They can go for embedded modules, external cards or handsets used as wireless modems. All have their pros and cons, but only embedded modules have the superior performance that comes from specially designed antenna systems that provide superior signal propagation over the alternatives."
Another concern regarding embedded wireless broadband, carrier lock-in, is also due to be removed. "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. 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," says Fiering.