The GSM Association fired the latest shot in the wireless broadband wars against Wimax and Wi-Fi on Tuesday with a new initiative that will see HSPA-embedded laptop computers ready to connect to 3G networks in nearly 100 markets.
GSMA has appropriated the term "mobile broadband" in an attempt to create a global service identifier alerting consumers which laptops are HSPA-enabled and pre-configured for service.
At the center of the initiative is an agreement by 16 companies, including mobile operators, PC makers and chipset providers, to pre-install HSPA into a range of laptops that will be "ready to switch on and surf straight out of the box in 91 countries across the world", the GSMA said in a statement.
Cellcos involved in the project launch include 3 Group, Orange, TelefÃ³nica Europe, Telecom Italia, TeliaSonera, T-Mobile and Vodafone. Also involved in the initiative are Asus, Dell, ECS, Ericsson, Gemalto, Lenovo, Microsoft, Qualcomm and Toshiba.
GSMA chief marketing officer Michael O'Hara said that the group expects "several hundred thousand" branded laptops on the market by Christmas. While he was unable to provide specific numbers, he noted that "about 120 laptop models among the participating laptop makers are capable of running HSPA."
Under the plan, operators will sell pre-configured laptops with SIMs pre-installed, following specs set by the GSMA.
At heart, the Mobile Broadband service mark initiative is the GSMA's latest move to grab mindshare in the increasingly competitive wireless broadband space, where consumer usage involves internet access primarily via laptops and MIDs, rather than cellular handsets.
O'Hara said the "Mobile Broadband" service mark will not only "help consumers easily identify "˜ready to run' Mobile Broadband devices", but will also give 3G operators a way to avoid bamboozling users with acronyms like HSPA and, later on, LTE.
How a general term like "Mobile Broadband" will help users distinguish between wireless broadband offerings like Wi-Fi and Wimax is less clear, although O'Hara says cellcos will differentiate from both via selling points such as wide-area coverage, better security and roaming.
In any case, the initiative will be backed by a global media spend of more than $1 billion among PC makers and cellcos in the next year to promote branded devices and services.
The GSMA has targeted the laptop segment since last year, citing demand for embedded wireless broadband in laptops - a segment currently dominated by Wi-Fi, and one that rival technology Wimax has had on its roadmap for some time by way of support from chipset maker Intel.
John Stefanac vice president and president of Qualcomm Southeast Asia/Pacific - whose Gobi HSPA/EV-DO module has already been adopted by laptop makers Acer, Dell, HP, Lenovo and Panasonic - confirmed that installing comparatively expensive HSPA chipsets in laptops could make "Mobile Broadband" branded laptops more expensive initially, but said the costs would drop to almost half in 18 months as volumes increased.
"Part of that will also depend on both the laptop makers, as well as operators and whether they decide to offer subsidies as part of their marketing plan," Stefanac said.
Meanwhile, the GSMA said its "Mobile Broadband" initiative was "the first step in a wider strategy to deliver wireless internet access and management to a whole range of previously unconnected devices - from cameras and MP3 players to refrigerators, cars and set-top boxes."