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Fast forward for mobile broadband

30 September 08 00:37 GMT

Phone firms, chip makers and PC manufacturers are uniting to push mobile broadband on laptop computers.

The alliance will build wireless modules into laptops to make it much easier to use the gadgets on future high-speed services.

Laptops with the wireless chips built-in will bear a service mark which shows they will work with the third and fourth generation wireless technology.

The branded laptops should be on shop shelves in 91 nations by Christmas.

Fast forward

Laptops and notebook computers bearing the "Mobile Broadband" logo will have on-board modules that will boost current third generation speeds and work with future fourth generation technologies.

At their fastest, these technologies - which include High Speed Packet Access (HSPA) and Long Term Evolution - support web browsing speeds of up to 7 megabits per second (Mbps).

"It's comparable to fixed broadband services and close to what you get in a wi-fi hot spot," said Mike O'Hara, a spokesman for the GSM Association which has brokered the tie-up on Mobile Broadband.

Mr O'Hara said the laptops would eventually be available where people now buy mobile phones.

"You can go to an operator's store, buy a laptop and it will be already fitted so you can go online instantly.

"That's a powerful proposition.

"There's a natural evolution such as we saw with wi-fi which at first used to need an external card and became embedded."

Hugh Padfield, principal manager for PC connectivity at Vodafone, said: "The important thing for us is to make it as easy for customers to buy mobile broadband."

He said the logo and branding scheme would help reassure customers about the laptops that will work with future fast net services.

"It will help to create even more momentum than what we have already seen with mobile broadband," he said.

"It's reached something of a tipping point even before it's been built in."

The deal to produce the modules, build them in to laptops and the campaign around the Mobile Broadband logo has been brokered by the GSM Association - the trade body that represents 80% of the world's mobile phone firms.

Most GSM operators are clustered in Western Europe and the Far East. US operators have broadly backed different technologies for mobiles.

The 16 firms in the Mobile Broadband alliance have pledged to spend about £554m ($1bn) to promote the logo and inform customers about laptops fitted with the technology.

Laptop makers Dell, Toshiba and Lenovo have signed up to the alliance along with 3, Microsoft, T-Mobile, Ericsson, Orange, Qualcomm and Vodafone.

It is not yet clear when mobile operators will roll out the wireless technologies that will help buyers of the branded laptops use the high-speed services.

Mr O'Hara from the GSMA said laptops were just the start of the process of connecting more devices with mobile broadband technologies. The wireless modules would soon crop up in digital cameras, music players, cars and phones.

But Steven Hartley, senior analyst at consultancy Ovum, expressed scepticism about the deal.

"My feeling is that it's not really necessary for what they are trying to achieve," he said.

"If you look at the uptake of mobile broadband services do they really need an initiative like this?

"The operators and vendors are working together anyway to ensure these things are interoperable."

Given that mobile broadband was already catching on, Mr Hartley also wondered how the success of the initiative would be measured.

"It's going to be interesting to see how it's going to be implemented and what's included in the package," he said.

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