In the nascent but burgeoning netbook game, Sprint Nextel appears to have upped the ante by offering what is essentially a free netbook--bundled with a two-year service contract, naturally. The offer is the latest salvo by a Tier 1 operator struggling to test the market for mini laptops with steep subsidies.
The deal, teased on Best Buy's website, is only available at participating Best Buy retail stores. The Compaq Mini 110c-1040DX netbook, which features a 1.6 GHz processor and 160 GB hard drive, is available for 99 cents with a two-year Sprint contract for mobile data, which typically runs at $60 per month. Thus, the real cost of the netbook is in the monthly fees paid to Sprint.
Interestingly, though, Best Buy is also offering the same netbook with service from AT&T Mobility and Verizon Wireless, as well as without a service contract--thereby providing a clear view into each carrier's netbook subsidy. The Compaq Mini sells for $389.99 without a service contract, or for $199.99 with a two-year contract with either AT&T or Verizon. Thus, the nation's two largest carriers are doling out around $189 in subsidies, while Sprint is forking over the full cost of the device in hopes of attracting monthly subscribers.
The 99-cent offer is the latest twist in the busy market for netbooks. AT&T kicked off the game last year with a $100 device through RadioShack, and Verizon Wireless subsequently jumped in with a similar offer via its own retail outlets.
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