Thursday, May 21, 2009

Get a netbook for cheap! But there's a catch...

I've been playing around with the idea of getting a netbook at some point, but haven't acted on that idea yet (I just had to buy a new desktop computer, and I can only buy so many goodies at any one time). But BusinessWeek has alerted me to a new way to get a netbook - buy it from a wireless phone service provider!

For the country's two dominant wireless phone carriers, AT&T (T) and Verizon Wireless, the arithmetic is clear. Cell-phone penetration in the U.S. is approaching 90% of the population, and the recession is damping enthusiasm for pricey new phones and services. So to avoid a slowdown in sales growth, both cellular giants are getting into a new game: personal computers.

And sure enough, you can find the HP Mini 1151MR netbook at Verizon Wireless, at a discounted price of $200.

However, BusinessWeek points out that there are strings attached to a cheap netbook offer:

Now the carriers want to sell them—much the way AT&T sells Apple's (AAPL) iPhone—by discounting the device but making up revenue with two-year contracts for expensive data plans.

And the numbers could add up:

[B]uyers may notice that when the service fees are tallied up, the cost could be as much as $1,440 over two years, plus the price of the netbook. And that may be on top of $30 a month or more the customer is already paying for another data plan linked to his cell phone.

And, there's the theoretical danger that your netbook could be shut down:

LM Ericsson AB, the Swedish company that makes many of the modems that go into laptops, announced...that its new modem will deal with this issue by including a feature that's virtually a wireless repo man. If the carrier has the stomach to do so, it can send a signal that completely disables the computer, making it impossible to turn on.

Now just because the technology exists doesn't mean that the wireless carriers would necessarily use it, but it's something to keep in mind...especially if the Ericsson technology is hacked.
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