Dell to Get Into the Carrier Game?

A Japanese newspaper reported that Dell plans to resell mobile data airtime from NTTDoCoMo along with its notebooks, according to TechRadar. The idea of a PC maker as an MVNO (mobile virtual network operator) may be more appealing to device makers than the current practice of carriers subsidizing portable PCs, because it gives the PC makers a piece of the wireless service revenue pie. Dell has not returned calls seeking comment.

Dell’s plan in Japan involves buying preset airtime from NTTDoCoMo and bundling it with purchase of Dell notebooks that are preconfigured with an appropriate modem. Users can then add more time (or megabytes?) if they need it. If this works in Japan, it’s something Dell may experiment with elsewhere, but it raises the question of whether or not device makers should get into the MVNO game.

With ubiquitous wireless access becoming vital on all computers, be they the size of smartphones or the size of a notebook, having a PC maker attempt to become a wireless carrier and control that part of offering isn’t too far fetched. Plus, PC makers are clearly trying their hand at making smartphones as well as intermediary gadgets like netbooks and mobile Internet devices. Apple has the iPhone and Dell reportedly was rebuffed when trying to bring a phone of its own to market.

Since PC makers hope to have the consumer equipment, they might as well try for the network. As carriers embrace their open 4G networks, such a model might make more sense, since they’ll need to find ways to fill up their pipes. I can imagine Sprint, which has already embraced reselling its 3G network for use on other devices such as the Kindle e-reader, selling time to device makers as part of its dumb pipe plan. If PC makers do decide to become MVNOs, I hope they’ll stick with a faster 3G service (like HSPA, as Dell will use in Japan), rather than slower 3G networks (such as CDMA or UMTS), which are too slow. Otherwise, it’s likely to frustrate users and turn them off on the mobile surfing experience.

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