Dell to become MVNO in Japan‾

The trend for device makers to move beyond partnering carrier brands and launch their own virtual operations, is gathering pace. Dell appears to be the latest to take the plunge. This is not - as yet - a way for Dell to sell its smartphone designs that mobile operators reportedly rejected, but to offer notebooks with bundled HSPA access and call plans.

The first launch is reported to be in Japan, where Nokia has also launched an MVNO for its luxury handset brand, Vertu.

Dell is not commenting officially, but many sources are reporting its latest strategy. In this new strand of the MVNO model, the network owner provides a connection and collects a fee, usually based on data usage, but remains invisible to the end user - with the twist on the usual MVNO model being that the MVNO brand belongs to the device.

Amazon's Kindle has been an important precursor and last week Sprint said it expected to boost its business from supporting services running on wireless-embedded products from music players to business communicators. As carriers build out 4G networks, with high bandwidth and often with open access models, they will be increasingly happy to find partners to use excess capacity.

Dell, like most PC makers, is looking for new channels as the desktop and notebook markets contract and are under threat from smartphone/PC hybrids. Already, they are selling wireless laptops via carriers, following the mobile phone subsidy model, and pushing into cut-down netbooks.

Dell's first experiment with a full MVNO, which gives better customer control and brand awareness than a deal with a mobile operator - not to mention a share of the wireless data revenue - is confined to Japan. It will run on the NTT DoCoMo network, which is used by Nokia Vertu. Nokia is also said to be pursuing the direct-to-consumer route for its handsets, via an MVNO deal, in India.

The Dell pilot in Japan will be emulated elsewhere, insiders said, assuming that it succeeds in its launch country. It will involve notebooks with built-in HSPA cards, priced between $500 and $2,000, shipping with a fixed amount of mobile broadband access. After using this up, customers buy additional access with a credit card. The offering will launch this summer.

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