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Verizon embeds 3G for Wi-Fi challenge

EV-DO hunkers down into notebooks

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With its 3G data network all dressed up and with nowhere to go, Verizon is courting PC notebook OEMs and cutting prices. Today it announced deals to embed CDMA EV-DO chips with the top three US PC manufacturers, Dell, Lenovo and HP, in their notebook PCs. Verizon's monthly tariff falls to $60 - half what European business users pay for their 3G data.

While Wi-Fi is becoming a standard feature on notebooks, network coverage is anything but ubiquitous. A succession of standards has emphasized speed over range and QoS, the bottom fell out of the hot spot market, and the remaining providers have been reluctant to sign roaming agreements. All of which means the road warrior must scramble to a hotspot, and subscribe to several hotspot providers.

By contrast Verizon offers speeds of 400 kbits/s to 700 kbits/s in 60 metropolitan areas and 60 airports, with seamless fall back to the slower but adequate 1X RTT network in many more.

The PC deals vary. Lenovo's new low cost Z Series Thinkpad range will feature models with an EV-DO antennae and chipset. Dell's deal is a bundle than an embed, with the Texan OEM offering a $249 PC Card option. HP is offering a bundled PC Card now but will embed EV-DO chipsets on models available next spring. HP also throw some marketing bucks at the deals.

The last three years has seen genuine concern that 802.11 wireless networking would eat into what the carriers hoped would provide a lucrative revenue stream for years to come: corporate data. Verizon's moves suggest that the trend is there to be bucked.

But no doubt Verizon, along with rival carriers who similarly want to capitalize on data network investments, will have taken stock of the clamor for city-wide Wi-Fi. Free Wi-Fi networking would impact Verizon's hopes of recouping its EV-DO investments. Philadelphia became the first US city to announce its intentions to build out a Wi-Fi network and San Francisco has, more tentatively, followed suit. Now Intel has formally thrown its marketing and lobbying muscle behind the cause. However, Orlando's unhappy experience - the city axed its muni Wi-Fi which attracted just 27 users per day at a cost to the city of $1,800 a month - suggests its a hard case to make.

Yesterday's libertarians are today's municipal socialists: for many, the utopian desire to "get everybody connected" trumping those fine, old fashioned things called principles. ®

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