Mobile broadband operators, along with laptop and chipset manufacturers, are joining forces to push built-in support for mobile broadband, using a newly created mark that will signal that a laptop is ready to offer mobile internet access.
Participating companies include 3, Asus, Dell, Ericsson, Lenovo, LG, Microsoft, Orange, Qualcomm, Telefónica Europe, Telecom Italia, TeliaSonera, T-Mobile, Toshiba and Vodafone.
The mark is also backed by a $1bn marketing budget, to be spent in the next year. The mark, which looks like a stylized cloud or bird, will be on laptops in time for the holiday shopping season. "Together we are announcing the initiative to drive the adoption of mobile broadband notebooks," said Michael O'Hara, chief marketing officer at GSM Association (GSMA), which handles the initiative.
If a laptop bears the new mark it supports at least 3.6Mbps on paper and 1Mbps in real-world capacity. The technical specification states that 3.6Mbps is required, and that 7.2Mbps is recommended, but the mark will always look the same. Different marks for different capacities won't be clear to customers, according to Ton Brand, who leads the initiative at the GSMA.
Only members of the GSM family can get the mark, which today means HSDPA, and in the future LTE. WiMax hasn't got the coverage and mobility that operators and laptop manufacturers are looking for, according to the GSMA.
The goal is to make it easy for consumers to find computers with built-in support for mobile broadband, which is needed for mobile broadband in the mass market product, and today that isn't the case, according to Brand.
"Like Bluetooth, like Wi-Fi, everybody has a mark, and mobile broadband didn't," he said.
The organisation isn't alone in thinking that the industry has made mobile broadband too complicated. "About a year ago one of our customers talked at a telecom conference and one thing he highlighted was that the telecom industry does more or less everything it can to confuse its customers. We talk about 3G, Turbo 3G, HSPA and WCDMA, and that confuses the customers," said Eva Sparr, marketing director at Ericsson's mobile broadband modules unit.
The confusion needed to be addressed, and that is what the industry has done with its new mark, according to Sparr.
Currently, most mobile broadband users connect to the internet using an external modem. Using an integrated module instead has several advantages. Besides ease of use, an integrated modem also offers better battery time, and you can't misplace or leave an integrated module at home. It's one less thing to remember, according to Sparr.
A second goal with the initiative is to offer an alternative to Wi-Fi-based hotspots, and on a national level mobile broadband offers better convenience and pricing than hotspots, but more than a mark is needed if mobile broadband is to compete with Wi-Fi hotspots on all levels.
"Cheaper international roaming is as important. If you price it out of the market it's never going to take off," said Christian Salbaing, managing director of 3 Group in Europe.
Salbaing thinks the EU suggested €1 (80p) per megabyte on a wholesale level, which is what operators pay each other, is still too expensive. "We think it should be €0.25 (20p), but it could be even lower, because the real cost is way under €0.25," he said.