Apple: Investing in the End of Wi-Fi

A new patent awarded to Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL  ) fuels speculation that the Mac maker will introduce a MacBook for telephony networks. The finding lends context to AT&T's (NYSE: T  ) $39 billion bid for T-Mobile USA.

We've seen this sort of thing before, thanks to the sleuths over at Patently Apple. This time, the Mac maker's filing calls for an adjustable antenna that could use a magnetic coupling in a manner similar to how Apple's power cords fasten to hardware. Here's a closer look:

Sources: CNET and Patently Apple.

My inner geek craves this sort of inventiveness. And as a dad on the go most of the week -- shuttling kids to taekwondo and ballet, among other places -- I relish the thought of having access to 3G and, ultimately, 4G service from a MacBook. Wi-Fi isn't always available, and when it is I'm usually able to get a decent chunk of work done.

But as an investor, I'm intrigued by the broader implications of having laptops leap into the murky waters of telecom. At the very least, it could put a huge strain on AT&T and Verizon (NYSE: VZ  ) . Both companies' networks are under pressure to meet the data-delivery demands of smartphones and tablets.

Add laptops into the mix and ... wow. No wonder Ma Bell took a German lover. AT&T handles 30 times as much data traffic today as it did in 2007. T-Mobile will add needed wireless spectrum and infrastructure to handle the new devices about to tap into the old lady's network.

Verizon and Sprint Nextel (Nasdaq: S  ) have the same problem, which is why some analysts say the two could merge to create a second Super Phone Company. I'm not so sure that would pass regulatory muster. And besides, Sprint might do just as well to settle differences with its Clearwire (Nasdaq: CLWR  ) subsidiary.

Do you agree? Disagree? Let us know what you think about Apple's assault on Wi-Fi, the state of the telecom industry, and the forthcoming rise of telephonic laptops using the comments box below.

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Fool contributor Tim Beyers is a member of the Motley Fool Rule Breakers stock-picking team. He owned shares of Apple at the time of publication. Check out Tim's portfolio holdings and Foolish writings, or connect with him on Twitter as @milehighfool. You can also get his insights delivered directly to your RSS reader. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple and has written Apple puts. The Fool is also on Twitter as @TheMotleyFool. Its disclosure policy shoots and ... SCORES! Fools win! Fools win! Fools win!


Read/Post Comments (7) | Recommend This Article (12)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On March 27, 2011, at 9:10 PM, jc09058 wrote:

    I think you hit the nail on the head with the AT&T/T-Mobile merger by gaining infrastructure and frequency spectrum. Infrastructure has been AT&T weakness when going head-to-head with Verizon and that is something they need to correct. Considering frequency spectrum needs now and in the future, that has been something that all wireless companies are fighting for. The only thing I'm not sure of, did AT&T get a good deal with T-Mobile's spectrum for now and in the future?

  • Report this Comment On March 27, 2011, at 11:07 PM, chuck3hood wrote:

    uh, Dell and HP have had 3 G available in laptops with good performing and totally hidden antennas for years now and more recently also have both WIMAX and LTE (AKA 4G).

  • Report this Comment On March 28, 2011, at 8:50 AM, st42 wrote:

    You speak as if Apple is the first to do this. All the major notebook suppliers (HP, Dell, Lenovo) already support carriers like AT&T and Verizon with internal wireless WAN solutions. I've been using mine for a long time with no issues. If Apple needs an external antenna (that can get broken off or lost) then it's inferior to the others that can do this internally.

  • Report this Comment On March 28, 2011, at 9:14 AM, tg25 wrote:

    The inner geek in you is behind the times so is Apple. 3G has been arounf integrated in notebooks for 5+ years. Ugly antenna design compared to todays 3G/4G integrated designs. The Apple design was something used 3 years ago.

  • Report this Comment On March 28, 2011, at 9:22 AM, MaxTheTerrible wrote:

    I don't understand why you're making such a big deal out of an adjustable antenna on a side of a laptop. All major laptop manufacturers already have an option of getting *internal* 3G or 4G antenna installed that could be used over your favorite wireless carrier. I have been using Sprint's 3G/4G USB adapter for more than a year now (if you want something with an adjustable antenna you might want to investigate) and it is my only internet connection at home. Having an option to take your internet with you when you travel was my primary motivation of getting it, but once I discovered that it's fast enough to watch a movie on Netflix, I scrapped my cable connection...

  • Report this Comment On March 28, 2011, at 9:26 AM, MaxTheTerrible wrote:

    Also forgot to mention that modern wireless routers support 3G/4G USB adapters, so in addition to taking your internet on a road you also have an option of running a full-scale wireless network at home.

  • Report this Comment On March 28, 2011, at 2:30 PM, TexLaw wrote:

    Even if this were new technology, it has a long way to go to spell the end of wi-fi. As it stands right now, wi-fi is typically cheaper, faster, and more reliable than cellular connections.

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