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AT&T talking with Apple about 3G-ready MacBooks?

AT&T is hoping to make 3G-enabled notebooks a staple of its cellular business, and in an executive interview hints that it may be chatting with Apple to extend its reach into MacBooks or other non-iPhone devices.

Sitting down with Fortune, AT&T's Emerging Devices group president Glenn Lurie says he would like his company's deals with Apple to extend beyond the iPhone, though he takes care to avoid implying any immediate collaboration on other hardware and portrays Apple as one of many device builders AT&T speaks with regarding future plans.

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

The subject surfaces in a conversation where Lurie acknowledges that the carrier is making an increasing push into non-phone devices that could use cellular broadband. Recent netbooks such as Acer's Aspire One and Dell's Inspiron Mini 9 have or are now being offered in bundles that, like with cellphones, heavily subsidize the up front cost of the system in exchange for agreeing to a contract — in this case for AT&T data service.

Such plans have worked "extremely well" with a holiday promotion for the Aspire One that dropped its price temporarily to $99 with the deal, according to Lurie. He also expresses hope that 3G and other forms of wireless data from the company will get into as many products as possible, including larger portables.

Whether or not Apple will take to such a strategy is less than certain. Sources have suggested to AppleInsider as early as 2007 that the Mac maker was looking into integrating 3G with its notebooks, but no such product has surfaced since.

Apple's co-founder Steve Jobs has acknowledged his company's investigations into the technology but, as of a year ago, has also said he doesn't want MacBooks to be tied to a carrier for enhanced wireless. 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 it to AT&T for wide-area broadband if the electronics firm also wants the technology to work in Europe and most other parts of the world. T-Mobile USA has 3G but only in a small number of markets and using a mostly incompatible frequency.

It's nonetheless evident that AT&T is exploring its options. In discussing AT&T's ventures into non-phone territory, Lurie acknowledges that he had just minutes before talked with Apple's COO Tim Cook, hinting that both companies are discussing more than just traditional handsets.