Microsoft: Mobile Operators Becoming Robust PC Retailers

Microsoft joined hands with Taiwan's Chunghwa Telecom on Friday to unveil a new deal to sell netbooks at up to 90 percent off their retail price with a 3G mobile broadband contract.

The deal is one of many Microsoft is co-authoring around the world as mobile network operators become important sellers of netbooks and laptop PCs.

"Mobile operators are the fastest growing PC retail segment," said John Curran, senior director of Windows Channel and Partner Marketing at Microsoft, at a news conference in Taipei. He credited netbooks with getting network operators on board the PC business, especially after 3G modules were added inside the devices.

Netbooks are mini-laptops with 7-inch to 10-inch screens and long lasting batteries designed for hours of unplugged use. The devices differ from laptops in that they lack DVD drives and use much weaker central processing units and other components.

Their longer battery life has made them popular as Internet devices that are easy to use away from home or office, accessing the Internet wirelessly over Wi-Fi.

The inclusion of 3G modules can reduce the cost of the device, but usually comes with a mobile broadband contract that runs for a year or two and adds to the overall expense.

Mini-notebooks have been flying off the shelves in Asia and boosted PC sales volumes overall this year amid the global recession, said Reuben Tan, head of personal systems research for market researcher IDC, in the Asia Pacific. A recent survey by IDC revealed people across Asia prefer to buy PCs from an electronics mall in general.

Microsoft has worked more closely with mobile network operators around the world over the past year to update them on their PC technology roadmap as well as help with marketing and promotional events, said Curran.

"Network operators are new to the PC business so they need some guidance," he said.

Chunghwa on Friday unveiled a new data plan and three netbooks for people in Taiwan to choose from, one each from Taiwan's big netbook makers, Acer, Asustek Computer and Micro-Star International (MSI). The devices all come with Microsoft Windows 7 installed.

People who sign up for Chunghwa's HiNet home Internet service, Internet TV service and 3G mobile broadband can buy an MSI U100+C netbook with a 10-inch screen and 3-cell battery for NT$1,200 (US$37), down from its retail price of NT$15,000, according to Chunghwa, the plan with the lowest price for the netbook.

People who just want the mobile 3G service on a netbook can opt for a plan to pay NT$6,100 for the netbook. Three-cell batteries normally only offer a few hours of battery life, far less than the 6-cell or 9-cell batteries common on netbooks today.

The other netbook choices are the Asustek Eee PC 1201N and Acer's Aspire 1420P, which has a swivel screen. The three devices are all offered with a range of service plans and a range of prices.

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