Best Buy (NYSE: BBY ) isn't interested in waiting for fourth-generation wireless broadband services WiMAX and LTE. The retailer wants to connect laptop and netbook users right now, wherever they are, and they're using Sprint Nextel's (NYSE: S ) 3G network to do the heavy lifting.
"Best Buy Connect," as the service is called, allows roaming laptop users paying $59.99 per month to consume up to 5 gigabytes of data. The lowest-cost plan charges $29.99 per month for 250 megabytes of data, equal to more than 85,000 emails or 17 YouTube videos. No contract is required, and customers can get technical support via phone, online, or in-store, Best Buy says in a Q&A document at its website.
But Sprint is the real winner here. By giving computer users a glimpse of what it's like to have anytime, anywhere access to the Web, it'll increase hunger for the WiMAX service it's delivering in concert with Clearwire (Nasdaq: CLWR ) .
At the same time, AT&T (NYSE: T ) and Verizon (NYSE: VZ ) face additional pressure to make their existing 3G services accessible to laptop users. AT&T more so than Verizon, in my view.
Why? Look at the page for AT&T's Laptop Connect service. You'd be hard pressed to find pricing on an otherwise crowded page. It's almost as if the company doesn't want to sell you Laptop Connect, which makes no sense with 4G services on the way and AT&T Wi-Fi now freely available through partners Starbucks (Nasdaq: SBUX ) and Barnes & Noble (NYSE: BKS ) .
Yet AT&T may not have a choice. With the iPad selling briskly and the controversial and network-challenged iPhone 4 already sold out, AT&T may not have the capacity to provide 3G data service to laptop customers.
So be it. As of today, Best Buy and Sprint Nextel are ready to fill the void. Will they succeed? Take the debate to the comments box below.