Toshiba’s 3G notebooks set to join Telecom’s XT line-up

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Toshiba is on the verge of announcing a tie-up with Telecom that will see the laptop maker’s 3G-enabled notebooks and netbooks available for XT.

Initially, the laptops will only be available through Gen-i, but will later appear in Telecom retail outlets.

When XT launched, Vodafone had three major device advantages: a full range of BlackBerries, the iPhone, and a Dell netbook with built-in 3G (nullifying the need to faff around with a data card). The Dell Inspiron 9 is sold on a cellphone-style no dollars up-front two-year, $75/month contract (which includes 1GB of data).

Telecom has already dealt to the iPhone issue, to a fashion, with its $600 cash rebate for those who bring an iPhone bought from a Vodafone store or via Apple online to XT.

Now, it’s began to plug the laptop gap. Toshiba claims the broadest range of models on the market with a 3G radio built in. They span from an entry-level netbook, the $850 NB200, to the all-singing, all dancing Portege R600 (pictured), which weighs just a fraction over 1kg, and features a 12.1-inch display and the world’s highest capacity Flash drive - packing 512GB. The price: $6,700.

Toshiba’s range also includes a number of more conventional laptops that include built-in 3G, though few offer change from $3000.

Gen-i - Telecom's IT and telco services division - claims to have beaten Vodafone to several big contracts on the back of XT, parlaying the new 3G network into deals with Crane Group, Harcourts and Radius.

2degrees has yet to enable 3G data on its 3G/2G network (Edge data is offered to cellphones at 50 cents a megabyte). But the company has pledged to add mobile broadband in the near future, and support a wide range of devices beyond cellphones.

Toshiba Australia New Zealand's Mathew Tumminello, in Auckland to finalise network certification details with Telecom, said his goal was to get Toshiba notebooks into all Telecom retail stores as well.

He said he would be angling for similar deals as Dell's no-dollars-up-front contracts through Vodafone.

Mr Tumminello said Telecom had approved Toshiba's full-line-up of laptops with built-in 3G, "from our flagship models the Portege R600 and the Tecra R10 and P10, right down to the NB200."

The 10-inch screen NB200 is styled as a "mini PC" by Toshiba, but is the form factor that most would call a netbook. It retails in New Zealand for around $850.

Mr Tumminello said that 80% of his company's portables feature built-in 3G today. Soon, "that will be 100%. It'll be like USB".

Asked whether the 50% or so of Toshiba customers on Vodafone would be disappointed at the deal being Telecom only - and whethe he would stick with the exclusive deal, Mr Trumminello replied:

"At this point yes. In the short term we need to work with those who are proactive and supportative."

But he went on:

"The reality is those sims aren't locked. If a customer wanted to use a Vodafone sim they could,"

Gen-i head of mobile Joe Caccioppoli told NBR that "all major notebook brands" will follow Toshiba.

Toshiba's 3G models will be launched first, "in about two weeks". Next off the rank will be Lenovo and HP, said Mr Caccioppoli.

The first wave of XT notebooks, from Toshiba, will come with a range of data plans starting at 1GB.

Toshiba, for one, is angling for broader Telecom Retail release and handset-style subidies following the Gen-i deal.

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