MacBook 3G: Ringer or Red Herring?

Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference between professional industry analysts and Apple fanboys coming up with dream specs for their ideal notebook. Such is the case with the most recent prediction by Neil Mawston of Strategy Analytics. His call for the (immediate) future of the MacBook? 3G HSDPA connectivity.

Cellular broadband connectivity built-in to notebooks is no revolutionary move, but what does Apple specifically stand to gain from including it in their own machines? According to Mawston, the chance to take advantage of network operators frothing at the mouth to cross-sell the notebooks to existing iPhone 3G customers. But are they really so eager?

Despite tantalizing images of dollar signs that may be dancing in their eyes, providers are no doubt brought back to earth by inescapable considerations like infrastructure limitations. Take for instance AT&T’s apparent trepidation at going forward with the rumored plan to offer official, native tethering in conjunction with Apple. Their 3G network already took an early hit when the iPhone was initially released, so it’s not difficult to imagine that even with considerable investment, it wouldn’t stand up well to a sharp spike in usage.
Still, 3G dongle sales are on the rise, and WiMax networks are beginning to go live worldwide, so demand is definitely there for wireless broadband computing. Building in 3G capability would also be the first logical step towards subsidized notebooks being offered in data subscription bundle packages, the possibility of which we reported on earlier. O2 now denies any imminent bundles including Apple-branded hardware, but the trail has still been blazed by others like Asus.
So is this a logical “next move” by Cupertino, as Mawston suggests? If Apple were actually in the netbook game, like Acer and Asus, than 3G inclusion would indeed be the obvious progression. In reality though, both internal and external factors argue against the likelihood of Mawston being correct. At least for American markets, the infrastructure build required by AT&T to support added demand is at least a year or two off, and Apple is not in the habit of releasing frequent iterations of their hardware with minor changes under new product codes, like Asus with its Eee line.
A MacBook outfitted with mobile broadband capability is a good idea, and one that we may yet see, but if Jobs is unwilling to buy into Blu-ray and netbooks, it’s unlikely that he’ll jump on the 3G bandwagon right now just because it seems to be gaining steam.