Tech Rumor of the Day: Verizon Netbooks

At least one netbook is rumored to have passed Verizon's rigid network compatibility test.
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Verizon

(VZ) - Get Report

is preparing to enter the 3G netbook race.

At least one netbook has passed Verizon's rigid network compatibility test and others are in the works, says a company source who declined to name the computer manufacturers involved.

Analysts see the move as an answer to rival

AT&T's

(T) - Get Report

recent netbook efforts. Earlier this month, AT&T announced it would sell netbooks for $99 through retailers like

RadioShack

(RSH)

in exchange for two-year service contracts.

To date, Verizon has offered $100 and $200 rebates on more expensive laptops with two-year contracts, but the subsidized netbook category is an altogether new strategy for the New Jersey wireless joint venture half owned by

Vodafone

(VOD) - Get Report

.

The subsidy war among wireless telcos really caught on last year after AT&T decided to

discount

Apple

(AAPL) - Get Report

iPhones. The move helped Apple more than triple the rate of iPhone sales, and it gave AT&T some sweet hand candy to lure customers away from competitors like Verizon,

Sprint

(S) - Get Report

and

Deutsche Telekom's

(DT) - Get Report

T-Mobile

.

"Verizon and AT&T have each other in their respective cross hairs," says Nielsen wireless analyst Roger Entner, referring to the pitched battle to win the other company's customers.

Netbooks from outfits like

Asus

and

Acer

are wildly popular in these tough economic times. They sell for about $300 without a telco subsidy. If Verizon covers $200 of the tab and gets a customer locked in to a two-year contract, the payback will be six-fold. Verizon data plans are about $60 per month. Over two years, that's worth $1,440 to Verizon.

Other PC makers are expected to get on board the netbook bandwagon. Both

Dell

(DELL) - Get Report

and

Hewlett-Packard

(HPQ) - Get Report

have been mentioned as potential netbook partners with Verizon and AT&T. There's no reason the think

Apple

(AAPL) - Get Report

will forego the

netbook

telco opportunity given the success it had with AT&T and the iPhone.

Investors will be keen to note that

Qualcomm

(QCOM) - Get Report

has emerged as once of the leading suppliers of the internal 3G modems in laptops, effectively replacing the clunky plug in antenna configuration.

It's doubtful that the 3G netbook will help telcos rope in millions of new customers they haven't already rounded up with phone plans, but there are a some markets that could catch on, says Nielsen's Entner.

"This will be a big hit for the back-to-school crowd," says Entner. "You have to buy a computer, and here's one for $100."