Where’s the PND interface for my HSPA USB-dongle?

Where’s the PND interface for my HSPA USB-dongle?

Surely this is still a tantalising thought. Yet it is almost 2010 and we are still not close to achieving this goal, even if virtually every driver at least carries an Internet-enabled mobile phone. Why is it taking so long for this vision to become a reality and what is really the missing link?

At first it was simple – the technology was simply non-existing. Back in 2000 there were no 3G networks to speak of, and portable computing devices were unimpressive things with poor displays and limited CPUs.

Today things have changed. The networks are here now, delivering – at least in theory – several megabits per second in metropolitan areas. Indeed, millions of Europeans already access the Internet on the go using notebooks armed with HSPA USB-dongles.

The devices are also here – appealing to consumers with good looks and fancy functionalities. While the PDA market is dead, its offspring – the PND – has ascended to become the most intelligent and versatile computing device thriving in the car environment.

However, the PND in its present incarnation retains the same Achilles' heel that brought the demise of the PDA: no online connectivity.

There are some quite good reasons for this. A PND is a gadget, sold at a one-off price with no strings attached. Bundling it with a communications service would only bring too much hassle with subscriptions and monthly payments. Besides, it makes little sense to sell a consumer his second or third mobile subscription. Better, then, to use something that the end-user possibly already has, which can also be used for other purposes: the communication device that makes Internet truly mobile – the USB-dongle!

Just like PNDs, shipments of USB-dongles have exploded in recent years. This year, the market for HSPA mobile broadband terminals is expected to well exceed ten million units in Europe alone, the vast majority being USB-devices.

The main advantage of this particular form factor is the versatility and the ability to connect the device to almost any type of PC. Its compact size makes it easy to take anywhere and use with multiple devices.

So why not simply unplug it from the notebook PC and connect it to the PND when inside the car? All it would take is a standard USB-interface and some appropriate drivers along with connection management software for Windows Mobile. Then the world of Internet content and dynamic data would open up for developers of map and navigation applications in cars.

So, for my next PND, I will be looking out for a USB-interface. Who will be the first to deliver this innovation?

Tobias Ryberg is a senior analyst and founding partner of Berg Insight, and has headed the company's M2M and telematics research program since 2004.

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