In the 1980s, Ericsson sold its PC division to Nokia, but now the company is back on the PC scene with a cloud-based service, primarily aimed at customers in Asia, Africa and Latin America.
To Ericsson, the PC as a service is an obvious feature of mobile broadband. The service will soon be offered by operators to customers and enterprises. Sanjay Kaul, vice president of consumer and business applications in Ericsson's multimedia business unit, is in charge of the service. So far, the service is available only in India and Mauritius, but he promises a rapid roll-out.
"When we sign an agreement with a mobile phone operator, the service is available to consumers within three months," Kaul said.
Kaul would not speculate on how big this will become, but he says that there are about 800 mobile phone operators in the world, and all of them are prospects.
The service began when Ericsson's relatively new multimedia business unit had developed a number of consumer services for operators to offer mobile broadband customers.
Development is done mainly in India by the Novatium company, partly owned by Ericsson. Novatium has already signed deals with several Indian operators, which among themselves already have more than 40,000 users of the services.
The client used by Ericsson for demos is a no-brand netbook with an Intel Atom processor, 1GB memory and a Linux operating system. Applications such as office programs are available as cloud services. Still, this is only a demo. The eventual form of the client hardware still remains to be decided.
The service, however, is to be hardware-independent. What Ericsson delivers to the operator is the client, the platform, servers and maintenance.
"It's up to the operator to package the service. We deliver a cloud-based service, " Kaul said.
Most operating systems have been tested, including Mac OS X, but Ericsson currently does not have a deal with Apple.
The service is intended as a traditional software service, provided by the operator. The customer pays a fixed price for the client and a monthly fee, based on use. The monthly cost, for this service will definitely be lower than what Google has indicated for Chrome OS, Kaul said.
"The service is primarily directed at people in markets where PC's are quite unusual," Kaul said. In more developed markets, focus will be on young people aged eight to 14 and older.
What's common to these customers is that they want simplicity.
"It takes five seconds to get going. The user does not need to worry about data storage or program updates and, not least, they need not worry about viruses," Kaul said.
Kaul wouldn't speculate on how big the service might become, but several deals are on their way. One of them is with an operator in Jamaica, where the service will be offered to schools.
As for applications and other content, the decisions are left to operators. The content demanded by African customers is totally different from that demanded by Indians. Ericsson is now developing an interface for the European market. Agreements with content suppliers can be signed by Ericsson or by the operators.