Huawei Technologies will launch cellular connectivity modules to embed into laptops in 2008, even though it sees data cards and USB modems dominating the market for several years to come.
We see embedded modules eventually replacing data cards, though more slowly than we originally expected, said Meddy Lu, director of integrated marketing communications for the Chinese manufacturer’s terminals division. USB modems, of which we are the leading manufacturer, will continue to be an interesting alternative.
The Shenzhen-based vendor’s terminals division makes mobile handsets, data cards, and USB modems for laptops, as well as set-top boxes and integrated access devices for the residential market. Embedded modules for laptops represents a natural extension of its business and it plans to sell them to other companies to integrate into end devices.
Embedding cellular connectivity into laptops enables mobile operators to boast the same level of usability as WiFi hotspots, with the added advantage that it is a wireless WAN rather than wireless LAN technology, and is therefore not limited to specific areas.
The trend started in the US a couple of years ago, driven partly by the prospect of increased WWAN competition if WiMAX became a reality with Sprint and Clearwire. Both Verizon Wireless and AT&T offer the capability pre-integrated into laptops from a variety of vendors. It has since been introduced in Europe, where operators Vodafone and T-Mobile have relationships with Dell and Fujitsu Siemens respectively.
From the user’s perspective, it represents an additional convenience of not having to slot a data card in to connect to the internet. The flip side of this is that the user is then tied to a particular mobile operator, which may not be a big deal for individuals, but may well deter enterprises from investing in such machines.
For the laptop manufacturers, the deals are usually exclusive to a specific operator, at least to begin with, but they clearly want to be able to embed any operator’s radio and SIM card into their machines, as required by the customer. There is also something of a channel issue, in that operators’ retail outlets often don’t have the expertise to sell more complex devices like laptops, while computer resellers don’t necessarily have the relationships in place to sell mobile service contracts.