T-Mobile Looks Beyond Handsets for 3G

It looks like T-Mobile USA finally got the memo that wireless data is a growth engine for mobile carriers: To take better advantage of its only recently launched 3G footprint, the cellco has introduced its first 3G data stick for laptops, in the form of a USB dongle. Considering that as of the beginning of March most of its data revenue was still coming from text messaging, it’s about time T-Mobile started thinking outside the handset.

T-Mobile’s been in the 3G game only since October 2008 and has thus been in a position of playing catch-up with the other major operators. Its exclusive G1 Google Android handset has driven some 3G data traffic thanks to the associated Android Market for widgets, but the carrier has yet to see major growth in the area. Extending mobile broadband to laptops—a strategy already employed by AT&T Inc., Verizon Wireless and Sprint-Nextel Corp.—will let it tap the enterprise mobility opportunity in particular, and hopefully move its data ARPU from under $10 into the teen numbers that its rivals have reported.

The “webConnect” dongle, made by Huawei Technologies, comes with the T-Mobile connection manager software to allow users to hook into T-Mobile’s 3G network, Wi-Fi hotspots and the GPRS/EDGE network in non-3G areas.

Service plans run $60 per month for up to 5 GB of data and the length of the contract affects the device’s price: $50 after rebate with a two-year commitment, $100 for one year and $250 without a contract.

It supports Windows XP and Vista only, although Mac support is on its way.

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