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HP’s been offering laptops with integrated 3G modems for some time, but they’ve always been tied to a specific CDMA carrier or offered in unlocked GSM flavor. But no matter the radio inside, they still required you to hook up with the carrier for a data plan that was almost always of the post-paid contract variety. All of that changes with the newly released HP ProBook 5330m laptop, which though it comes with an integrated EVDO 3G radio, is not hooked up directly into Sprint’s systems.

Instead, HP has partnered with Sprint to set up what amounts to a data-online MVNO (mobile virtual network operator, think Helio) that they are calling HP DataPass. What makes DataPass unique in the laptop data game is that it’s prepaid and not post-paid. The rates for DataPass aren’t exactly great, ranging from $5.00 for 75MB, available for 5 hours, up to $30 for 1GB, good for a full 30 days. DataPass is also managed from software on the laptop, meaning you shouldn’t ever have to pick up the phone to call the carrier and get more gee-bees added to your account. Though the prices aren’t necessarily fantastic, we do like the option of just paying for the data you need when you need it. Also, though HP-branded, DataPass is being managed by wholesale data reseller PeregrineNet.

What gets us excited, however, is how this could translate to a device like the HP TouchPad. While a 3G CDMA version of the webOS tablet hasn’t been announced, this sort of on-device data selection framework could work quite well for the device, enabling users to use it on Wi-Fi when available, and fire up the 3G modem and grab some over-the-air data when they need it, and only pay for it then.

There’s something else very interesting to note: HP’s laptops can be outfitted with a dual-mode CDMA/GSM modem from Qualcomm, allowing the laptop owner to jump between networks if they so desire. The DataPass service only works with Sprint at the moment, but HP hinted that they could buy more wholesale data capacity on other networks if they so desired.

Does this make us any closer to realizing the dream of a multi-network 3G TouchPad and a Sprint Pre 3? Not necessarily (HP’s long been a partner of Sprint in the 3G-enabled netbook arena), but it also doesn’t mean we’re going to stop dreaming any time soon.