Vodafone becomes latest to enter netbook fray

But evidence is emerging that broadband deals are killing off demand for laptops
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Vodafone has become the latest mobile operator to enter into the PC retail market, with the firm set to begin offering Dell's first netbook, the Inspiron Mini 9, later this month.

While pricing and packages are yet to be announced, it is widely expected that the operator will offer the device for free to consumer taking out a mobile broadband contract on its network.

The move comes weeks after Vodafone denied to PC Retail that it had any intentions to expand its offerings from its deal between itself, DSGi and Dell. It is not clear if this new deal will affect its current relationship with DSGi.

Speaking about the deal, Vodafone's director of PC connectivity Andrew Sangster said: "The recent acceleration in the take up of mobile broadband has demonstrated just how hungry consumers are for Internet access.

"Building on our long relationship with Dell, the availability of the Inspiron Mini 9 will further enhance what a customer can achieve with mobile broadband whilst on the move," added Sangster.

"Today’s announcement marks the next step in the evolution of mobile broadband services bringing mobile broadband into the hands of many more customers."

Dell's European vice president and general manager for consumer Michael Lombardo echoed his comments: "Technology has become an essential part of how people connect with one another – whether it's surfing the web, chatting with friends, keeping updated on the latest news, sharing photos or social networking.

"Dell is committed to providing consumers with technology that allows them to connect any place, any time with mobile broadband," he added.

Concerns are emerging within the independent sector, with several retailers seeing a marked drop in demand for laptops since the emergence of the offers. "I haven't personally seen any impact," ITACS chairman Matthew Woolley, who also owns award winning independent Forum Computers, told PC Retail.

Despite not being affected by the deals, Woolley is aware of its impact on other independents: "From the people who I have spoken to recently, there has definitely been a drying up of demand."

The deal means that Vodafone becomes the latest mobile operator to begin offering free laptops. T-Mobile began offering deals earlier this month, while Orange and 3 have been offering consumers similar deals since summer.

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