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Tuesday, May 05, 2009, 01:00 pm PT (04:00 pm ET)

Apple seeks 3G specialist for Macs as subsidy deals near

Apple is seeking an experienced communications engineer to join its Mac team and focus on debugging communications technologies — including 3G Wireless WAN — amid rumors that the company is nearing deals with 3G providers that would help subsidize the cost of new Macs.

The job listing within Apple's Mac Hardware Group, spotted on Tuesday by ComputerWorld, seeks an individual that would be responsible for "testing and reporting hardware, software, and device driver bugs for Communications technologies including AirPort (802.11a/b/g/n), Bluetooth v2.0, gigabit Ethernet, and/or 3G Wireless WAN in a detailed, timely manner."

The reference to 3G is drawing some attention because it's the only communications technology mentioned in listing that's not currently a fixture of Apple's Mac line. Some industry watchers and customers have long called upon Apple to follow in the footsteps of rivals like Acer and Dell and build 3G wireless technology into its notebooks.

During a conversation with USA Today's Ed Baig last year, Apple chief executive Steve Jobs admitted to exploring the idea of building a 3G chip into the 13-inch MacBook Air, but said he ultimately decided against the move because he doesn't want MacBooks to be tied to a specific wireless carrier for enhanced internet services.

In the US, Apple would likely need to follow a similar approach to the iPhone and use the HSPA standard for 3G, which would limit MacBooks to AT&T for wide-area broadband if the company also wanted the technology to work in Europe and most other parts of the world.

Still, that hasn't stopped AT&T from knocking on the Mac maker's door. The carrier's Emerging Devices group president Glenn Lurie acknowledged in a January interview with Fortune that the company is making a push into non-phone devices that could use cellular broadband and looked forward to the possibility that Apple would be part of those plans.

"We're having conversations with lots of folks," he said. "[But] I would very much like to do more business with Apple, and hope that we do."

The executive noted that a holiday promotion that subsidized Acer's Aspire One down to $99 with the purchase of an AT&T 3G service plan worked "extremely well" and that he hoped to establish similar offers for as many products as possible, including larger portables.

Though Apple has thus far been unwilling to build specific wireless broadband hardware into its notebooks, it has reportedly agreed to deals by which it will allow MacBooks to be subsidized alongside sales of 3G services made accessible via USB dongle modems, which would offer customers the freedom to choose their wireless broadband provider. Apple's latest job posting may therefore represent a move on the part of the Cupertino-based company to certify that the broad range of wireless broadband USB modems and their software drivers perform well on the Mac platform.

A little over a month ago it was reported that Orange, the United Kingdom's top rated mobile broadband provider, was wrapping up talks with Apple to offer subsidized MacBooks to customers who sign up for its own 3G service. At the time, Orange was reportedly testing its USB dongle modems with the current line of MacBooks in anticipation of launching the promotion sometime this summer.