Best Buy will launch its own mobile broadband data service on July 11 for some of the devices it sells in many of its big-box retail outlets. The story has been dribbling out over the past few weeks with Best Buy leaking the details itself in an ad that was picked up by Engadget, but now most of the details have been confirmed.
The service is called Best Buy Connect and will offer data plans starting at $30 a month for 250 megabytes and $60 a month for up to 5 gigabytes through a partnership with Sprint (NYSE: S). The ambitions are pretty limited because they will only apply to laptops embedded with Qualcomm’s Gobi chipset. But the decision for Best Buy to get into the services business — again — comes at an odd time. It was earlier this month when the retailer admitted defeat and sold its Speakeasy unit, a DSL provider after purchasing it more than three years ago for almost $100 million. Speakeasy was picked up by Covad and Megapath in what was described as a fire sale by GigaOm.
As currently reported, by the WSJ and others, the Best Buy Connect story has a few holes. While it will run over Sprint’s network, it will reportedly be limited to its 3G network, and not tap into the carrier’s faster 4G network. In addition, it will be limited to Gobi-enabled laptops, which typically are defined as having the ability to roam onto both CDMA and HSPA-based networks (although Best Buy only has a partnership with Sprint, which uses CDMA).
To be sure, Best Buy has identified mobile as one of the burgeoning areas of consumer electronics to tap into. Its created standalone mobile-phone kiosks in its stores to offer better customer service. And, despite, its recent failures with Speakeasy, it’s not shying away from other services. In the company’s June quarterly conference call, the WSJ said CEO Brian Dunn hinted that Best Buy had additional branded services in mind in addition to already selling digital movie downloads and e-books 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 said.