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AT&T Launches Netbook-With-Service Experiment

By Jeff Meisner E-Commerce Times ECT News Network
Apr 2, 2009 1:18 PM PT

AT&T has announced plans to sell wireless broadband laptops starting at US$50 plus the cost of a monthly wireless plan.

AT&T Launches Netbook-With-Service Experiment

The mini-laptops will come with built-in 3G wireless capability and are part of a limited trial at retail locations in Atlanta and Philadelphia.

"Broadband is not just about speed anymore -- it's about mobility," said David Christopher, chief marketing officer of AT&T mobility and consumer markets. "Pairing mini-laptops with AT&T's home, WiFi and mobile broadband offerings enables consumers to get the most from their new devices -- virtually anywhere, anytime."

Mini-laptops are lightweight computers that make it easy to surf the Internet, send and receive email, keep social networking sites updated, and manage digital files, including photos and music.

Mini-laptops available in AT&T stores include the Acer Aspire One, Dell Inspiron Mini 9 and Mini 12, and LG Xenia.

Prices range from $50 to $250 with the purchase of an AT&T Internet at Home and On the Go plan, which starts at $60 per month. Without AT&T service, the mini-laptops range in price from $450 to $600.

AT&T's stock was up 4.36 percent to $27.05 per share in mid-day trading on Thursday.

More Mobility

AT&T's decision to start selling subsidized wireless broadband mini-laptops comes at a time when sales of mobile phones are slowing due to deep penetration in America, Europe and Asia. In essence, the wireless operators are looking for new markets, said Sheryl Kingstone, an analyst at the Yankee Group.

"It's following the model of subsidized BlackBerrys and other smartphones," Kingstone told the E-Commerce Times. "What's interesting is that from a mobility standpoint, they're making it less expensive to get into the game -- but you still have to pay for the connectivity each month. The cost is all in the plan."

The broadband-enabled netbooks being offered by AT&T are easy to use.

"Let's say you don't want to do everything on your BlackBerry," Kingstone said. "These netbooks do a lot today, especially when you think of there being so many apps sitting in the cloud."

Down the road, mobile operators may offer both a netbook and a mobile phone on one payment plan, she speculated.

"A machine with a plan that includes a smartphone -- that would be a lot of value," Kingstone observed.

Appeals to Businesses

The low-price netbooks will probably appeal to businesses in sectors such as healthcare and financial services, where mobile workers are employed in great numbers, Kingstone said.

The chief concern most companies will have, however, will be the security of sensitive corporate data.

"Security is the No. 1 barrier to enterprises going to the cloud," Kingstone noted. "There are viable options to control that security, but it's a hurdle a lot of companies have to [clear] to ensure the company is meeting their security requirements."

Is it possible that the new low-cost netbooks could cannibalize AT&T's smartphone business?

"It could," Kingstone said, "but you're not going to wear your netbook on your hip. If you're a mobile user who wants snippets of information, like a pharmaceutical sales rep, then it won't displace a smartphone."

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