Telefonica-owned brand O2 has launched into the subsidised-laptop market, and is giving away a couple of models of Samsung netbook mini-laptop with £30 and £40 contracts.
The mini-laptops are nice enough: the Samsung NC10 and basic-comfiguration R510 are free if you sign up to pay 30 quid a month for 3GB of data, while a better-equipped R510 will cost you a one-off eighty quid payment and is billed as a "multimedia laptop". Another tenner a month gets you 10GB of data, with both contracts offering access to O2's network of Wi-Fi hotspots.
(We're not supposed to call them netbooks these days, though O2 does reference the NC10 that way. NetBook is, of course, a term owned by Psion who have recently managed to get Google to recognise the trademark and refuse ads on that basis, while Psion has been alerting websites to avoid using the term - so we'll stick to mini-laptop.)
Not that O2 is really interested in selling mini-laptops any more than it is interested in selling mobile phones, so the O2 minis come with free support (for an unspecified "limited period") and are covered by the operator's "Happiness Guarantee" that is basically a 30-day-return policy. Punters also get a free copy of McAfee security software.
O2 is clearly trying to sell these devices to punters who don't own, and have never considered owning, a laptop - lots of support and easy payments, all leading to greater utilisation of the network. It's a policy embraced by Carphone Warehouse with its Best Buy Europe project that expects to see multiple-PC-owning houses proliferate in just the same way that most houses have more than one phone in now.
But you can't subsidise everything on the basis of contract values - Mobile phone contracts have become the modern version of the "never-never": we fully expect T-Mobile to start selling contract-based cars any day now, while Orange supplies sofas we can hide behind when the man from Vodafone comes knocking. ®