Your Phone Company’s Latest Offering: Netbook Computers

img_multi_default200x310.jpgLooking to cash in on a growing trend, with a nod to the fact that much of the wireless service they sell today is used to access text, email and internet data, carriers such as AT&T and Verizon Wireless have begun exploring netbooks as a revenue source.

For a little over a month, AT&T customers in Atlanta and Philadelphia have been able to purchase netbooks ranging in price from $99 to $249. Verizon Wireless will also become a vendor for the HP mini 1151 later this month, according to a Boy Genius report.

The carriers are reportedly willing to subsidize the cost of netbook computers by about $100, making up their investment on 3G data plans that range in cost to the consumer from $40 – $60 per month. Over the lifespan of a two year contract similar to the one currently required by AT&T, that’s not a bad return on investment.

With voice services becoming a less-used feature of wireless connectivity, providers must look to solutions for offsetting the fact that web browsing from smartphones such as Apple’s iPhone now account for up to 1/3 of all airtime usage while consuming 2/3 of a network’s bandwidth.

As the proportion of smartphone and netbook users grows, providers will need to expand the capabilities of their wireless data networks, costs that AT&T has offset in the near-term by adding new customers who have come to the carrier through the iPhone.

Looking down the road, which is not something incumbent carriers have typically been thought of as being good at, attracting new customers with netbooks and selling them high margin data plans could prove to be a winning strategy.