So-called cloud service provider Macheen Inc. is teaming up with Lenovo Group Ltd. (Hong Kong: 992) to add a new mobile broadband service to the hardware maker's ThinkPad product line.
Akin to how Amazon.com Inc. (Nasdaq: AMZN) powers the Kindle, Macheen has wholesale relationships with a number of operators across the globe, including Three UK in the U.K. and Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S) in the U.S. for its CDMA network -- although it also plans to support its forthcoming Long Term Evolution (LTE) network. Macheen is using those relationships to offer built-in connectivity for Lenovo laptops and tablets in the U.S. and nine European countries. (See Macheen Goes Live in the US With Sprint.)
The companies are targeting the contract-free Lenovo Mobile Access service at consumers and enterprises. Users can choose from the following price plans: $1.95 for 30 minutes or 30MB; $8.95 for a day or 200MB; or a monthly plan with 2GB or 6GB of data, with pricing dependent on the geography.
Macheen's global operator deals mean users can travel abroad on the same SIM without losing access, and Web-based policy management tools let corporate IT departments customize permissions, access and billing down to individual employees. (See Startup Offers Contract-Free M2M .)
"We're de-coupling the idea of access from any particular network -- making connectivity a feature instead of a separate service," said Macheen CEO Richard Schwartz in an email interview. The cloud-based service also gives its partners flexibility to offer plans for use of certain apps like email and salesforce.com, social networking and video apps, or even offering some toll free as part of a sponsored access model.
Why this matters
Most wireless operators will admit that even if network-connected tablets are selling well, consumers are rarely turning on that network connection. They're hoping that will change with Long Term Evolution (LTE), but as Schwartz pointed out, the limiting factor may still be the expense of a data plan for each device. He estimates that only 2 percent of laptops and tablets use data services today, which is far less than the proportion of smartphones that use data, and that's the gap his company is trying to close.
While a service like this puts Macheen's tablet partners in competition with wireless operators for data connectivity, it's also a boon to Sprint, which is focused on bolstering its wholesale business.
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