Festive ‘Free’ Laptops May Be A False Economy

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelance and long standing contributor to TechWeek Europe

Users tempted by so-called ‘free’ laptops with broadband should remember, a 3G contract  is for a year, not just for Christmas

In a sign of the tough economic times, a comparison website has found that users are increasingly opting for ‘free’ laptop deals that includes a dongle.

So says Broadband Expert which said that sales figures showed that free laptop mobile broadband contract deals are up by 115 percent in the first week of December, compared to the first week of November.

Indeed, the deals are proving to be so popular that they are making up 7 out of 10 of the company’s total contract mobile broadband transactions in this time.

“One reason for the boost in ‘free laptop’ sales is that these deals are enticing many Christmas shoppers who were initially looking to purchase a standalone laptop,” said Rob Webber, Broadband Expert’s commercial director. “Free laptop’ bundles are popular because they allow customers to avoid the upfront cost of a new computer.”

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But these ‘free’ deals can often be a false ecomony, as Webber warns. “When making their decision, consumers should be aware that over the term of the contract the cost of the laptop may work out to be up to 20 percent higher than if it was purchased ‘off the shelf’,” he said.

“The term ‘free laptop’ should not be taken at face value,” he said. “Providers make sure the price of the hardware is recovered by tying consumers into longer contracts in order to make the money back.”

Broadband Expert said that they had noticed a similar trend of increased free laptop sales last year, but said this year’s figures suggest the volume of free laptop sales will easily surpass the number sold last Christmas.

It also found that Pay As You Go mobile broadband sales are up by 18 percent in the first week of December compared to the first week of November.

It seems that certain mobile operators in the UK are using this trend for free laptops as a way to acquire market share, but others are adopting a more hands off approach, worried about being saddled with the upfront cost of the laptop.

“Providers such as T-Mobile and 3 are set to benefit from this festive trend and are driving large volumes of mobile broadband contract sales by offering laptops and netbooks as part of a mobile broadband contract,” said Broadband Expert.

However it noted that Vodafone for example has taken a commercial decision to reduce the number of these deals it is offering.

“Whilst this type of promotion can give a big boost to sales figures there is an increased amount of risk to the mobile operator which needs to cover the upfront cost of the laptop or netbook and will typically be exposed to a greater risk of non payment and fraud than with other products,” explained.