Hewlett-Packard and Dell plan early next year to start selling laptops with embedded radios that allow users to access the Internet via Verizon Wireless' data network, the two U.S. manufacturers said Monday in separate statements.
In the meantime, Dell has begun selling an external PC card that allows users to access Verizon's EVDO (Evolution Data Optimized) network. HP plans to offer a similar card in the coming weeks.
HP appears to be positioning its new push to offer the Verizon services against the Wi-Fi market. The Verizon service will offer customers high-speed data access "that extends beyond the reach of today's current patchwork of Wi-Fi hot spots," HP said.
The majority of laptops sold today come with chips that allow users to access the Internet via Wi-Fi, enabling connectivity within a short range at speeds of several megabits per second. Verizon's EVDO network offers download rates of 400Kbps to 700Kbps.
The Verizon EVDO network is now available in 60 markets in the U.S., offering far greater coverage there than Wi-Fi hotspots, which are typically available in coffee shops, hotels and sometimes city center business districts. However, the cost to access hotspots is usually less then a subscription to Verizon's EVDO network.
Hotspot aggregator Boingo Wireless, for example, charges $22 per month for unlimited access. By contrast, Verizon customers pay $80 per month for unlimited data access.
"At $80 a month, forget about it," said Peter White, an analyst with Rethink Research Associates. Despite the greater coverage offered by EVDO, he said the price is still too high for it to be significantly competitive with Wi-Fi.
However, the embedded cellular data offerings from laptop makers like HP and Dell could ultimately compete with DSL (digital subscriber line) and cable modem operators, according to White. "Perhaps this is a threat on the horizon to the fixed line telcos and cable companies," he said.
In Europe, operators including Vodafone Group and T-Mobile International have announced plans to upgrade their networks to HSDPA (High Speed Downlink Packet Access), a technology that ultimately is expected to offer speeds of more than 10Mbps. If such services are priced right, users may be interested in using them at home as well as on the move, White said.