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Unpaid Bills May Lead To No Wireless Access

March 31, 2009

A wireless carrier which subsidizes computers that come with wireless Internet access will soon be able to cut off the computer’s wireless access if the buyer stops paying their bills.

If such a case were to happen, the buyer would be left with a fully usable computer except without cellular broadband.

LM Ericsson AB, a Swedish company which makes many of the modems that go into laptops, announced Tuesday that its new modem will deal with this issue by including a feature that is virtually a wireless repo man.  If the carrier has the stomach to do so, it can send signals that completely disable the computer, making it impossible to run.

“We call it a ‘kill pill,’” said Mats Norin, Ericsson’s vice president of mobile broadband modules.

The device will work with AT&T Inc.’s 3G network, along with many other 3G networks overseas.

Last year, AT&T started subsidizing small laptops known as “netbooks,” which normally cost about $400, so that Radioshack Corp. can sell them for $100.  This can happen only if the buyer agrees to pay $60 a month for two years for AT&T’s wireless broadband access.  These offers are very common in Europe.

It is unlikely that carriers would result in using the “kill pill,” but the technology has other uses.  For example, a company could secure its data by locking down stolen laptops wirelessly.  Lenovo Group Ltd. has said it will build this sort of feature into its laptops.

Also, the new Ericsson modem will be able to stay active while the computer is off, listening for wireless messages.  This means it might wake up and alert the user when it receives an important e-mail, or if someone is calling with a conferencing application like Skype.

Laptop makers that currently use Ericsson modules are LG Electronics Inc., Dell Inc., Toshiba Corp. and Lenovo.

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