Best Buy may find willing partners for mobile broadband MVNO deals

Lynnette LunaBig box electronics retailer Best Buy made an MVNO deal this week with Sprint Nextel to resell 3G mobile broadband service as a value-add for customers who buy Gobi-embedded laptops. Gobi is Qualcomm's built-in mobile broadband service that connects laptops to both CDMA EVDO and HSPA networks (see this story), and the number of these devices is still relatively low. However, could this be the first of a series of MVNO mobile broadband deals that Best Buy plans to make?

Gobi devices are probably a good start for Best Buy, which has a mixed track record in selling its own services. It recently sold its own DSL unit, Speakeasy, after disappointing sales. But CEO Brian Dunn indicated during Best Buy's quarterly conference call that Best Buy had branded services in mind and has already begun selling digital movie downloads and ebooks on its website.

 "As the industry's leading retailer of mobile computers, we can't wait to see what new innovation this category brings and the opportunities to provide value-added features like broadband connections," he was quoted as saying in The Wall Street Journal.

With this value-added vision, Best Buy has many tools at its disposal, including reducing the price on laptops if customers lock into a mobile broadband contract.

Interestingly enough, Best Buy's move probably comes at exactly the right time. As LTE comes onto the scene, operators will be looking for partners to help immediately expand the market and offload capital costs. It appears the days of rolling out your own service to establish brand and then embracing wholesale customers is over. Japan's NTT DoCoMo, for instance, said it will embrace wholesale partners from day one of launching LTE in December (see this story). I wouldn't be surprised to see Verizon have a few wholesale deals already done when it launches later this year in 25 to 30 markets. Perhaps Best Buy will be one of them.--Lynnette

P.S. In honor of the Fourth of July holiday, FierceBroadbandWireless will take a publishing break until July 8.

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