Macs with 3G: More connectivity, more problems

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So, earlier this week, when I was showing my age by ranting about how tablet business will never catch on, I made what I do think was a relevant point: a supposedly 3G-enabled tablet would add one more telecom charge to family budgets, which, in the target market, might already be stressed by a hefty AT&T iPhone bill. The same thought occurred to me when I heard the rumors, based on Apple job postings, that 3G radio receivers might find their way into future Mac notebooks. The possibility was strengthened based on mention of WWAN hardware in Snow Leopard beta releases.

At first glance, this seems like a reasonably awesome idea. No more looking for free Wi-Fi networks! Connectivity from the beach! In fact, such a chip might allow us to jettison wired connectivity altogether. When my wife and I got iPhones last year, we got rid of our landline phone service, but kept the DSL; if we had shiny new laptops with 3G chips in them, we could go completely wireless, right?

But The devil, as it always is, is in the details. Most of us have gotten kind of accustomed to the idea of more or less unlimited Internet connectivity for a flat fee. And, more to the point, most of us have gotten accustomed to the idea of one Internet connection per household, shared with a wireless router. The latter idea could be covered by a router that connects to the Internet over a 3G connection -- something like the MiFi hotspot. It wouldn't surprise me if Apple had such a thing in the pipeline, an Airport station (Airport Mobility?) that didn't need to be plugged into the wall. That would explain the search for 3G experts, anyway.

Ultimately, I do think that our computers will be connecting to some kind of pervasive wireless network. The question will be how we'll pay for it. The last few years, which have featured debates about net neutrality for wired and wireless carriers and escalating wireless fees, have shown that telecom companies are very keen to get as much out of us as they can. But there's only so much that people are willing to pay for. Unless there's some reasonably way for someone to pay for the pervasive Internet all at once for all their devices, I'm not sure it will catch on.

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