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Dell to Get Into the Carrier Game?

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A Japanese newspaper reported that Dell (s 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 (s aapl) 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 (s S), 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.

14 Responses to “Dell to Get Into the Carrier Game?”

  1. primate

    i think this story has to be given significant weight after hearing the news that VZ is planning to sell netbooks. (

    Actually, my first thought reading the VZ rumors on Sunday was around Dell — and how is Dell going to pair up with potential carrier customers.

    It seems clear that the economic downturn is bringing about a bit of a phase change in Comm/IT space with biz models and alliances being reshaped.

  2. Wireless data in Japan rocks, to be sure. However, I suspect that in the long run that many subscribers are going to want some sort of plan where they have one account and can attach multiple devices but in such a way that each device does not end up costing another $60 a month. Home broadband delivers on such a model, with the end user being able to add additional PCs in the home without a huge price hit. Eventually there will be pressure to extend this model, or something like it, to wireless although how this ends up happening and how much kicking and screaming it involves are up for debate.

    • Stacey Higginbotham

      Jason, I tend to agree with you and have called for that in the past, BUT if Dell were able to bundle in a decent amount of minutes into the cost of the PC i may accept such a model, especially if I never needed to buy any or many extra MB or GBs.

      • I suspect that for a deal like Dell’s in Japan it will be time in terms of days or months of data service. Last time I checked, Japanese operators are not so big on restrictive data services and tend to offer “all you can eat” plans with fast data rates and reasonable prices. Emobile looks like they have HSDPA 7.2 meg for about $50/mo, as an example. I suspect that the Dell service will be data only…

  3. I hope Dell does the same thing here in America and cut a deal with WiMAX for netbooks and Android phones! *fingers crossed*.

    Are they just testing the waters in Japan, accumulating some usage/costs data before pulling the trigger in Austin?

  4. @Stacey,

    If the economics makes sense, I certainly (IMHO) think this idea could have legs. Do you have any idea of Dell’s plans regarding the US and UK markets? I’ve seen a couple of previous articles touting Sprint’s wholesale spectrum efforts, so perhaps Dell’s strategy here is an indirect result.