Verizon Opening the Lid on Netbook Sales?

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Verizon Wireless is well known for hawking all manner of mobile phones, wireless broadband devices, accessories, and—of course—the service contracts that go with them. Now the company appears to me making a move into the mobile computing market, and is ramping up plans to begin selling low-cost netbook computers as soon as next quarter, according to Bloomberg. The move is seen as a way to counter AT&T, which recently began offering a netbook with RadioShack that connects to the company’s 3G network.

Citing a person close to the project, the report says Verizon will be offering netbooks from more than one manufacturer, although pricing and service plan details haven’t been worked out yet. The emphasis on the devices would be on data service rather than voice connectivity—so users would be encouraged to use the netbooks for email, Web, and basic Internet connectivity on the go, perhaps in addition to a voice plan on a traditional mobile phone.

Netbooks have been the one sector of the computing market that’s been showing growth given the current economic downturn: the inexpensive notebook systems are typically highly portable, feature small screens, and (typically with Windows XP) offer just enough features to get users on and off the Internet and accomplish basic tasks. The netbook segment is one of the main reasons Microsoft hasn’t been able to put Windows XP out to pasture yet—despite trying to do so for years.

Verizon is reportedly considering offering netbooks in both its retail stores and through partners. Industry watchers are estimating the machines will have lower out-of-pocket costs than netbooks available through traditional computing retailers—perhaps somewhere in the neighborhood of $100—since Verizon will likely subsidize some of the cost over the length of a wireless service contract.