Cheap Laptops + Mobile Broadband = Huge Market, Says Microsoft

Microsoft and GSMA, the trade association of GSM mobile phone operators, are pushing PC manufacturers to roll out a new line of low-end notebooks that can connect to the internet through mobile phone networks. They just released the results of a joint survey that suggests a potential market for 70 million laptops, worth about $50 billion, targeted at mainstream users.

The two parties are basically arguing that PC designers and manufacturers need to rethink how they approach potential buyers of low-end laptops. To capture more first-time buyers, Microsoft and GSMA are championing the inclusion of hardware that enables notebooks to connect to the internet through mobile phone networksâ''a move that is thought to make the existing technology of data access through mobile broadband much simpler for mainstream computer users. â''We need to show the PC industry that they need to innovate and push hardware design, because the needs of those buyers is not the same as the typical road warrior,â'' says Ken Pawlak, Microsoftâ''s director of mobile operator PCs.

Instead, the surveyâ''consisting of some 12,000 in-person interviews conducted across 13 countries in Europe and Asiaâ''reveals that mainstream users want computers primarily for entertainment and easy internet access from more places than just the homeâ''indeed, wherever a cell phone signal is available.

With the exception of a few high-end notebooks with built-in mobile broadband capabilities, most users who now tap into their mobile networks for data do so through external cards that they plug in to their machines. The future manufacturers of these cheap consumer laptopsâ''and at least six PC makers have signed on to do soâ''will use basically the same chip sets that are currently in smart phones. The transition is merely expected to make the process of connecting to mobile broadband networks as easy as using wi-fi is now, with the added advantage of those phone networksâ'' broader reach. So as the software giant and the telecom trade association spread the word in the form of a design competition (winner gets a press release), expect to see a flurry of cheap, mobile-broadband-ready notebooksâ''in the US $500 to $1000 rangeâ''surfacing on the market midway through 2008.

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