A Tank of Unleaded and a Dongle Phone, Please

The Toshiba G450 caught my eye as soon as I saw it on the gadget blogs in January. It’s manufactured by Chinese ODM TechFaith as an “HSDPA modem phone” — personally I’ve taken to calling it the “dongle phone”.

If Toshiba price and market it well, this revolutionary design has a chance to capitalise on exploding demand for 3G dongles.

Why am I so excited about it? Well, it’s something different from the homogeneous dongles that have been offered so far. Not only do you have a 3G modem, but you have an emergency phone, too. The device (which will probably be rolling around in the bottom of your bag most of the time and mainly used with your notebook) can be pulled out and used to make voice calls if the battery on your mobile has gone flat. It gets better — you can charge the G450 through your USB port.

At present most 3G dongles come with an airtime package and a data-only SIM (that is, no voice). Perhaps this device will see that changing, with operators throwing in a few prepaid voice minutes for emergencies.

That said, as flat-rate data charges become more common on standard mobile phone contracts I anticipate more and more people will buy 3G dongles SIM-free and just swap their SIMs around. We might even see outlets like the Carphone Warehouse bundling SIM-free dongles with new mobile phone subscriptions to sweeten the deal. On traditional 3G dongles this presents a problem — how do you answer a call when your SIM is not in your phone? With the Toshiba G450 the problem’s solved.

I predict we’ll see 3G dongles appearing as shrink-wrapped products in coming months — so don’t be surprised to go into your local petrol station and see them hanging on the shelves. Many people are addicted to the Web on their home broadband. If the price is right, there’s no reason you can’t have a 3G dongle to use when you are on holiday, visiting friends, staying in your second home, or a student away from home…

Initially these shrink-wrapped dongles will be bundled with a SIM card and prepaid minutes, but I can see they’ll eventually be sold ready for you to pop in your own SIM and get started. This is where Toshiba’s product could be really attractive.

One note of caution: there’s a limited window of opportunity. Eventually the mobile phone makers (and operators) will figure out they need to make it easier for people to connect their phones to their notebooks. Right now it’s just too difficult, so people are taking the easy option and signing up for a 3G dongle.

Toshiba G450
Source: Toshiba