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Page last updated at 07:12 GMT, Tuesday, 30 September 2008 08:12 UK
Mobile broadband gets kickstart

by Jim Reed
Newsbeat technology reporter

The way millions of us go online could change over the next couple of years. A number of big technology companies are getting together to make gadgets that can access the internet over the mobile phone network.

With a flooded market, mobile companies need to find new ways to make money

More than a million people in the UK already go online using a 3G card or USB dongle.

Now that technology is going to be built directly into more laptops, mp3 players, cars and even household goods like refrigerators.

Here's a quick Newsbeat guide.

What's this plan all about?

At the moment most computers connect to the internet over the 3G mobile network using a data card or USB dongle which sticks in the back of your laptop.

But a big group of technology companies including Dell, Microsoft and Orange wants to see that kind of connection built directly into more computers and other gadgets.
Mobile Broadband group
3 Group, Asus, Dell, ECS, Ericsson, Gemalto, Lenovo, Microsoft, Orange, Qualcomm, T-Mobile, Telecom Italia, TeliaSonera, Toshiba, Vodafone.

In practice it will mean laptops come with a 'Mobile Broadband' sticker on the front and a slot for a standard SIM card in the back.

Customers can then shop for a broadband contract with a company like O2, 3 or T-Mobile.

Alternatively they can buy the whole package - contract and laptop - from their mobile operator in the same way as they buy a phone today.

Operators are likely to subsidise the cost of the computer, making it free on some tariffs.

But mobile operators are doing that already aren't they?

Some already are.

Carphone Warehouse offers customers a range of "free" laptops. Each comes with a USB modem and a 30 a month data contract.

Mobile operator Orange has also started selling a basic Asus Windows PC, again for no up-front charge, with a 25 a month contract.

Expect to see loads more of these deals from all the major operators over the next year or so as mobile connections are built into more devices.

25 or 30 a month! That's way more expensive than my standard broadband at home.

You can expect to pay between 12 and 25 a month for home broadband depending on download limits and the speed of your connection.

The people behind this new scheme reckon mobile data prices will come down to that sort of level by 2011.

So is this just about laptops?
Mobile broadband
Laptops with built-in WiFi will compete with mobile broadband

No. The idea is to put mobile SIM cards in more devices.

Ultimately operators reckon we will start seeing mp3 players, television set-top boxes, cameras, cars and even white goods like fridges connected in this way.

For example a barcode scanner on your fridge could send information about your food to your laptop, mobile phone and even directly to an online supermarket.

Or your in-car Sat Nav could automatically call home when you are 20 minutes away from the front door to switch the heating on.

But these kind of applications are years away.

What's in it for the companies involved?

The big idea here is to get more of us to buy mobile broadband subscriptions.

There are currently 71 million working mobile phones in the UK, more than there are people.

With the market flooded, mobile companies are trying to find new ways to make money.

But they might have some tough competition.

Most laptop computers, and many phones, now come with WiFi as standard.

That lets users wirelessly link devices over short distances for no cost whatsoever.

An expanded version of WiFi, called WiMAX, promises the same kind of connectivity over distances as far as 5 miles, although it's far from clear how users would access or pay for this kind of service.

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