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Reader David Kelly, a student at University College Cork in Ireland, offered us his two cents on Eircom’s possible strategy behind offering Wi-Fi access from payphones: I set out one day to try to use some of the free access offered by Eircom from pay phones around Dublin only to discover it wasn’t very practical in rainy Dublin to find a place to sit outside nearby one of the payphones to get online. Kelly points out that Eircom is required by ComReg, the Irish regulatory agency, to continue to provide payphone service. Adding Wi-Fi to the payphones is relatively simple—Eircom only needs to upgrade the line for DSL and add an access point. While the Wi-Fi access is currently free, the trial may be an attempt to discover if Wi-Fi could ultimately earn some revenue for Eircom. With mobile phone penetration reaching nearly 90 percent in Ireland, I can’t imagine that Eircom makes much money from the payphones. Kelly also points out that Eircom sells ad space on the phone booths and also plasters its own advertising on the booths. Both are attempts to leverage the fact that they are required to continue to support the pay phones.
Kelly also suggests that Eircom might do better to add the Wi-Fi access to indoor pay phones, which may be located in train stations or shopping centers or high-traffic locations. That would make a lot more sense than the outdoor offering.
Plenty of Americans, myself included, would be mortified to step foot in a McDonald’s while overseas: But it appears that I’m not the only one to do so for the sake of free (or at least free with purchase) Wi-Fi. Actually, I don’t know for sure if this writer is American. But after being shocked at the high price of Wi-Fi access in his hotel in Paris, he stumbled on a McDonald’s offering free Wi-Fi.
His story sounds eerily familiar to my recent experiences in Dublin. The hotel I stayed in charged about €20 per day for Wi-Fi access. I find that hard to stomach. After a reader alerted me to free Wi-Fi in McDonald’s cafes in Dublin and once I moved here, I tried one out because I was having trouble getting online elsewhere. The funny thing about the McDonald’s cafe on Grafton Street is that it appeared to me that the Wi-Fi access was specifically available only in the cafe, which fronts a regular McDonald’s restaurant. But even though I moved around a bit, I couldn’t find a spot with a decent enough signal to actually use the network. It makes me think that the AP is hung in the restaurant, where they discourage you from using the network.
A new group was founded last week in the UK dedicated to influencing spectrum policy toward opening up unlicensed spectrum: Open Spectrum UK is an amalgamation of different community networking groups and non-profit organizations. They came together to submit a response to Ofcom’s Spectrum Framework Review consultation. “In cooperating to produce this statement to Ofcom, the groups involved realized that they agreed with each other 99 percent of the time,” said Robert Horvitz, founder of Open Spectrum International. “They want to continue advocating more license-exempt spectrum after the consultation is over, so as a result they created this alliance.”
John Wilson, who serves as secretary at Arwain.net, a group that is building wireless networks in Cardiff, Wales, is spearheading the new group.
The document submitted to Ofcom focuses on the aspects of Ofcom’s consultation related to license exemption. For example, Ofcom proposed a ceiling of 800 MHz of license-exempt spectrum by 2010 and while Open Spectrum UK finds that to be an adequate amount, the group would like to know how Ofcom came up with that figure and proposed that it be treated not as a maximum but as a preliminary estimate. The group also believes that a total of 800 MHz of unlicensed frequencies likely precludes opening up frequencies in the higher bands, which it believes would be valuable for unlicensed use.
Open Spectrum UK also took issue with Ofcom’s proposal to deny license-exempt cognitive radios. While the group agrees that some requirements may need to be set to prevent potential interference, it objects to a sweeping dismissal of cognitive radio usage.
The authors also set out to influence the overall mindset of the licensing body. According to the EU’s licensing directive and framework for electronic communications, license exemption (or, technically, general authorization) should be the default position for regulators. “It’s not license exemption which needs to be justified by need, it’s licensing which needs to be justified by need,” Horvitz said. While many European countries including the UK are growing more progressive in their thinking toward license exempt, “they still have the habit of thinking of licensing as the default approach to spectrum management,” he said.
The authors link that change of thinking to human rights, in a way that Horvitz says is rarely done. The requirement of governments not to require licenses in the absence of interference is rooted in the European Human Rights Treaty from 1950 which asserts that everyone has the right to send and receive information without interference from the government. But licensing can be seen as interference from the government. The treaty lists some exceptions to the right, such as some forms of broadcasting and for public safety. “When licensing cannot be justified by any of these exceptions, it must be considered a violation of human rights,” the Open Spectrum UK document asserts.
This point is particularly important, Horvitz said. “I believe it’s the first time it has been put on record as a position in what is normally an area where technology rules,” he said. “The root of Europe’s policy to move away from individual licenses to class licenses is based on a human rights perspective. That means you have to prove that it’s necessary for there to be individual licensing,” he said.
Horvitz says he’s not a “fanatic about open spectrum,” but that he recognizes that unlicensed spectrum can be a useful tool.
Horvitz’s group, Open Spectrum International, was founded in August 2004 with a mission of helping countries around the world de-license spectrum for use primarily by Wi-Fi. “It has so much potential for improving access to the Net and driving down costs,” Horvitz said.
The organization will typically focus on the less developed countries, usually outside of Europe, “where reform won’t happen spontaneously,” Horvitz said. But because England tends to be a thought-leader throughout Europe Horvitz got involved in commenting on the recent Ofcom consultation. “We won’t focus on England. It was just an issue that came along where we thought we could make a difference,” he said.
Horvitz’s interest in unlicensed radio dates back 25 years when he became a radio hobbyist. At the time, he refused to get a Ham license because he believed that packet radio ought to be an unlicensed activity. “When the open spectrum movement in the U.S. got rolling in 2000 or 2001, I was so excited because I never thought I’d live long enough to see this become a mass movement,” he said. “Then when Wi-Fi really took off in 2002, its potential in developing countries became immediately clear.”
BT Openzone said that it targets hotspots at major events that will attract reporters: The company began to see demand from reporters covering events last year and now anticipates such demand, particularly at sporting events. Staff reporters can surely expense the cost of accessing the networks so it’s a good opportunity for BT to take advantage of real demand for the access.
The price to access hotspots is still high in Europe and those high prices are a common complaint: Apparently BT at least doesn’t believe that reducing prices will attract more customers, even though it seems really obvious that lowered prices would surely draw more users.
Mike Masnik at The Feature notes that BT ought to expect competition from free hotspots. It’s difficult, though not impossible, to compete against free access. T-Mobile in the U.S., for example, has positioned its hotspot offering as a very secure, reliable service, mainly targeting business users. T-Mobile reasons that such users will be willing to pay for the access rather than visit a free hotspot because of the reliability and security. If more and more free hotspots start popping up in BT’s markets, it’ll have to offer some sort of angle for customers or they’ll find there’s no need to pay for the access. But BT may be gambling that the free hotspot concept just may not happen extensively enough to threaten its high-price model.
Or, as a post on ISP Review suggests, BT may well be waiting for competitors to drop prices first and then it will follow suit. Also, with the results BT is getting from its hotspot service, I can see why it may find it unnecessary to drop prices. ISP Review reports that take-up of BT’s Openzone service grew by 400 percent last year and is growing by 20 percent a month. If people are paying the price BT is asking, no reason to drop the price.
Kineto, which has been aggressive in pushing its Unlicensed Mobile Access (UMA) software, is making the software available to Microsoft Smartphone makers: Also, a Taiwanese handset maker said it is working on a GSM/GPRS/EDGE/Wi-Fi handset, using Kineto’s software. Kineto is also working on making its software available on Symbian-based handsets.
While I feel like a lot of the UMA buzz has been in Europe (but maybe that’s just because I’m here), Kineto believes that the first commercial launch of a UMA service will be in the U.S. This despite BT’s Bluephone buzz.
Netcom, the Norwegian mobile operator, is offering to build and manage WLANs for enterprises: Netcom also offers 10,000 hotspots globally, I presume partly through roaming deals, so enterprises that hire Netcom to manage their WLANs can also opt to allow their mobile workers to access Netcom’s hotspots. This is a great way for an operator to try to secure large enterprises as hotspot customers. The idea is that the end users can log onto the corporate WLAN and the public hotspots in the exact same way.
This type of service may also help to grow the use of WLANs in enterprises in Europe. I have the impression that the use of WLANs by enterprises is not quite as widespread in Europe as it is in the U.S. Handing off the construction of the network to an operator that presumably is respected as a network builder, is a good way to encourage the use of WLANs. Also, the enterprise doesn’t fully hand all of the management off to Netcom. Administrators can access a provisioning interface to activate and manage users.
Netcom, which is owned by TeliaSonera is using a platform developed by a company called ServiceFactory. A quick breeze through ServiceFactory’s Web site reveals that its platform supports EAP and can interface with RADIUS servers for authentication. It sounds like ServiceFactory’s offering may also support virtual LANs because the announcement notes that businesses can enable guest access.
KubiWireless, Vodafone Spain, and Comunitel are together building hotspots to cover the Madrid and Barcelona airports: The hotspots will mainly cover the food courts in the airports. KubiWireless operates 200 hotspots in Spain and has roaming agreements with Vodafone Spain and Comunitel.
BT plans to introduce its Bluephone service this spring and will integrate Wi-Fi into the service within 18 months: Bluephone customers will have a Bluetooth-enabled cell phone that allows them to make and receive calls within range of a Bluetooth receiver and pay landline prices. Outside of that range, customers will use the regular cellular network for calls. BT says that it will launch the service in a few months and ultimately begin using Wi-Fi to carry the calls within the home or office.
A BT spokesman says he expects to have a dozen converged cellular/Wi-Fi devices to offer customers when the Wi-Fi-based service hits the market. That sounds a bit ambitious to me, but there have been quite a few announcements of such converged devices recently so he could be right.
I believe that Bluephone will be based on Unlicensed Mobile Access (UMA), a method for using Wi-Fi to carry calls when in range of an access point but relying on the GSM backend network for functions like billing. More on UMA here.
T-Mobile is discussing all of its upcoming data offerings at the 3GSM conference this week: It will offer the same combined 3G/Wi-Fi device that Orange is introducing. Both operators will start selling the Microsoft Windows Mobile device this summer.
T-Mobile also revealed some statistics about customers. It said that in January, customers in the U.S. transmitted more than 10 terabytes of data over T-Mobile’s Wi-Fi networks. T-Mobile plans to have 20,000 hotspots in Europe and the U.S. by the end of this year.
T-Mobile also discussed plans to introduce HSDPA within a year. The company’s chief technology officer compared HSDPA to ADSL, which may offer a hint as to how T-Mobile may market HSDPA. While some operators are looking at the technology as a way to offer a DSL or cable modem replacement service, I’ve talked to at least one analyst who thinks that HSDPA will be best suited to applications based on handheld devices or for filling in the connectivity gaps when customers are on the go. But because of the expense that operators paid for their cellular licenses, it’s unlikely that they could offer a similar price point for HSDPA as the DSL operators can for a similar unlimited Internet access offering in the home.
Given T-Mobile’s announcement that it is using a broadband wireless technology similar to WiMax for an onboard train offering, I wonder if T-Mobile may instead consider WiMax if it is looking for a technology to offer a service that is competitive to DSL or cable mode.
T-Mobile has launched a free (for now) broadband wireless Internet service on the Brighton to Victoria express train service in the UK: Commuters will access the network via Wi-Fi. Most of the headlines around this story proclaim that T-Mobile is using WiMax for the backhaul. Nomad Digital Rail is building the network for T-Mobile. It’s not clear which vendor is supplying the broadband wireless backhaul equipment but it appears to be a vendor that plans to deliver WiMax-compliant equipment eventually.
Typically, these types of application use either satellite or cellular to backhaul the network. A broadband wireless technology like WiMax can support much higher bandwidths. It has long been my opinion that these types of Internet access offerings, made to captive audiences like commuters, are a great idea. This Brighton trip takes 55 minutes and I know that if I had that commute each day I’d be willing to pay in order to be able to get Internet access and be productive.
T-Mobile plans to introduce the service on other train lines this summer, when it will begin charging for the service.
T-Mobile has been one of the most aggressive cellular operators to pursue Wi-Fi and now it is showing its willingness to employ other wireless technologies that will allow it to achieve its goals. It’s great news for the WiMax industry to have a major player like T-Mobile employing a WiMax-like technology.
Philips said that it is teaming with Kineto to offer a system for mobile phone operators to build Unlicensed Mobile Access (UMA) compliant phones: UMA, which is described in more detail in an earlier post, is a technology developed by mobile operators and vendors to enable voice calls to be made on combined Wi-Fi/cellular phones, using Wi-Fi when available but always using the GSM core network for authentication, billing, and other types of support. The Philips/Kineto deal is designed to help handset manufacturers develop and deliver UMA phones quickly.
The Register is reporting that Orange will offer a combined 3G/Wi-Fi device later this year: It’s the same device, HTC’s Universal, that T-Mobile apparently plans to introduce this summer. Not only does the Universal operate over 3G, GPRS, and Wi-Fi, it’s apparently the first Windows Mobile device that operates on 3G.
This is a bit old but since I haven’t written about Garderos before I thought it’d be worth linking to: Garderos offers operational support services software for hotspot operators and enterprises. This case study describes a deployment by E.On, an energy company in Germany, that wanted to open its WLAN for guest access. The case study doesn’t include much technical information about how secure the guest access is or what sort of precautions are put in place to ensure that guests can’t access corporate information. But the offering is likely similar to that from a few of the WLAN appliance vendors in the U.S., such as Bluesocket or ReefEdge. Garderos also supports T-Mobile’s hotspots in Hungary.
Bitbuzz, a hotspot operator in Dublin, conducted a user survey to find out more information about its customers and came up with some interesting findings: Women make up 45 percent of Bitbuzz users. Bitbuzz also found that 69 percent of the Wi-Fi users also have broadband access at home and 52 percent of them have portable MP3 players. Those two items definitely indicate that Wi-Fi users here are technology early adopters, especially given how hard it can be to get broadband access in Dublin. Bitbuzz also found that 26 percent of its users connect via Macs and 28 percent use PDAs. That figure is especially surprising to me because I have a general impression that while more and more PDAs ship with Wi-Fi these days, not many people really use it. I must be wrong about that, at least among the population of PDA users here in Dublin.
The Indian government has opened up the 2.4 GHz and 5.1 GHz bands for Wi-Fi use: The 5.1 GHz band can only be used for indoor applications. The government had earlier opened up part of the 2.4 GHz band but only for indoor use. I know that I’ve read about Wi-Fi in India but I’m not quite clear on what has been allowed previously. Perhaps companies had to get certain permission to use the frequencies and now the spectrum is open to anyone.
A wireless LAN has been built for members of the Irish parliament: I’m actually not totally clear on what exactly has been built so far because there appears to be a phased rollout of the network. But the ultimate idea is to allow members of parliament here to use PDAs or laptops to access emails or other information stored on internal databases. For those of you outside of Ireland, Leinster House is the building that houses the Irish parliament and Oireachtas is the Gaelic word for parliament.
I’m hopeful that the WLAN in Leinster House will draw some attention to the potential of Wi-Fi here. I’ve found some very convenient hotspots in Dublin, but this city hasn’t experienced the Wi-Fi explosion of some other big cities around the globe
Lucent said it has made a deal with Ulticom to offer a SIM-based Wi-Fi authentication system for mobile operators: There are a slew of companies offering SIM-based WLAN authentication, ranging from the big SIM providers like Gemplus to some smaller startups. If the idea is to take off, it’ll start out in Europe where customers are familiar with the SIM concept. In the U.S. where most people have never heard of SIM, it could prove more complicated.
Using SIM for WLAN authentication is great for mobile operators because they can use infrastructure that is already in place. It’s not clear how this Lucent solution would work for the end user. In some cases, customers send a text message and assuming their SIM is authenticated, they receive a pin which allows them to sign onto a hotspot. I’ve also heard talk of using SIM readers on laptops, which could either be built into the laptop or attached via PCMCIA or USB. That obviously adds an extra hardware requirement which represents an extra hurdle to ask users to leap over in order to use Wi-Fi.
Lucent made this announcement at the 3GSM conference just starting today in Cannes, France. It’s the largest European cellular trade show of the year. I’ll expect to hear of discussions about Wi-Fi and WiMax, if only surrounding how those technologies might coexist next to the emerging cellular broadband standards, like HSDPA.
Infonetics Research reports that worldwide voice over Wi-Fi handset revenue reached €35 million in 2004: Total units sold were 113,000. Combined Wi-Fi/cellular handset revenue reached €5.1 million in 2004, representing 8,000 handsets sold. Much of this market so far, especially the standalone handsets, is likely in the enterprise market, where companies like Spectralink have been selling voice over Wi-Fi systems.
These numbers should grow as companies roll out devices aimed at the broader market. Skype just announced that its voice over IP client will come loaded on PDAs made by Carrier Devices. The PDAs will be equipped with Wi-Fi and GSM/GPRS. PDAs are still largely used by business customers so this product, which is also made by an obscure manufacturer, isn’t likely to expand the market into new segments, like the consumer world. But, coming loaded with Skype’s client is clearly a step toward making it easier for users to use voice over Wi-Fi.
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I’ve tested the extremes that I’m willing to endure for free Wi-Fi: I had a rough couple of days earlier this week trying to get online while I wait for DSL to be turned on in my office. I’ve got some sort of glitch going on with my laptop where I get booted off a hotspot—any hotspot—within a few minutes of getting access. So I decided to hunt around for free hotspots in hopes that if I didn’t have to log on, I might not have the problem.
I started out at the Chester Beatty Library, which was a godsend to me while I was visiting Dublin in November. But alas, the network is no longer open and totally free. Visitors can get a password that enables 30 minutes of access with a purchase at the cafe or gift shop. Because I’d have to sign on, this network wouldn’t suit my purposes for my experiment.
During one of my brief windows of access earlier in the day, I’d managed to download the list of hotspots that Eircom, the local phone company, has offered from a slew of payphones in Dublin. I think the access is free, so I set out in search of one.
Now, I’d call myself a very thrifty person (the word FREE resonates loudly for me), but there’s only so far I’ll go for free Wi-Fi access. Unless I’m missing something obvious, I can’t see how offering free or even fee-based access from a payphone is remotely useful to the vast majority of potential customers. Wi-Fi-enabled PDA users are the only customers I can see who would be interested, and their numbers are small enough that I can’t imagine Eircom would go to the effort of building hotspots just for them.
I strolled up and down Grafton Street, the main pedestrian thoroughfare in the city center, where apparently payphones at the top and bottom of the street are equipped with access. My first problem was that I didn’t notice any stickers or signs on any of the payphones I saw indicating that they were equipped with Wi-Fi. On a side note, it’s amazing how many payphones are in Dublin, given that cell phone penetration in Ireland is one of the highest in Europe.
But even if I did see a sign indicating Wi-Fi was available from a payphone, what then? I wouldn’t stand for long in the payphone, holding my laptop with one hand, trying to type with the other. In case Eircom missed this bulletin, Dublin is chilly and rainy most of the time so I wasn’t too keen on finding a wall to sit on where I could hang out with my laptop for any length of time. I also wasn’t terribly interested in sitting on the ground against a shop with the homeless folks (not that there are many here). I wouldn’t quite fit in with that crowd if I had a laptop on my lap.
I figured I’d keep looking and maybe I’d find one of Eircom’s payphones that happened to be either near a cafe or maybe near a park where it might be easy to sit on a bench or something. Supposedly one of the payphones is on Grafton just near St. Stephen’s Green, a big park in Dublin, but the nearest bench was a ways into the park and I doubted the coverage would reach. Anyway, the bench was wet and I didn’t care to sit on it.
I walked into Rathmines, a neighborhood on the south side of Dublin, where a couple of Eircom payphones are equipped. One is near the public pool, so I thought maybe there’d be a parking lot or a park nearby where I could sit. At some point, I’ll post a photo here of the area around the phone because I found it quite amusing when I reached it late on a long day of frustrating failure to get online. It’s really just a typical overgrown trash-strewn parking lot that you might find in practically any city on earth. Even in my most desperate search for Internet access, I couldn’t bring myself to hang out in this car park and fire up my laptop.
So instead, I ultimately ended up popping into a nearby Internet cafe and plugging in with an Ethernet cable directly. No problems there, but as a journalist who has been covering Wi-Fi for years, I felt a bit sinful for using a landline connection.
T-Systems has added Nocable, an Italian hotspot operator, to its Wi-Fi roaming system: T-Systems seems to be positioning itself as an aggregator of sorts. As part of this deal, customers who subscribe to an operator that uses T-Systems roaming system can roam onto Nocable’s 50 hotspots.
I’ve just sent in a query to T-Systems in search of a list of customers for the roaming system. I found a page on their Website that says they have 120 partners but it only lists a few small operators. T-Systems is also providing a hotspot covering CeBit. [the link to the press release is broken. we’ll drop it in later assuming it gets fixed.]
Alex French, director of operations for Irish hotspot operator Bitbuzz, must have been pleased at an accidental exchange that occurred while we sat in a Bitbuzz hotspot. As the server from the bar set down my tea, he noticed that I had connected to the hotspot and was looking at the sign-on page. Unprovoked, he advised us that if we went upstairs, into the hotel, we’d get a cheaper rate than in the restaurant. He also told us how to pay for the access.
After many experiences over the past couple years receiving blank stares when asking servers or baristas about Wi-Fi access in venues that I know offer it, I was pleasantly surprised to hear such detail, especially unsolicited.
French wasn’t. Bitbuzz is “fanatical” about doing staff training at its hotspot locations, he said. Before the launch of each hotspot, Bitbuzz coordinates a training session, either during a training that may have already been previously scheduled by the venue or when the staff is doing a shift change.
The training is one of a handful of services that Bitbuzz undertakes to set it apart from its competitors, a significant task given that Bitbuzz is an independent company competing against O2, Eircom, and Esat BT, the incumbent operators in Ireland.
Bitbuzz may also set itself apart by attracting customers from a wider base of users. It hasn’t yet officially announced it, but Bitbuzz has signed inbound roaming deals with the Boingo and iPass networks so may soon begin attracting customers of those aggregators. Bitbuzz is still working on the implementations on the backend.
Attracting roaming customers from other networks is key to Bitbuzz’s strategy, French said. “We see ourselves in the long term as more of a wholesale player. We don’t want to compete with O2 to attract users from a marketing perspective,” he said. “We don’t have the marketing budgets that they do.”
Bitbuzz fully installs and pays for the access points, asking each location to commit to buying a certain amount of usage time from Bitbuzz each month. The venue may choose to give the access away to its customers or charge them whatever fee they see fit.
Because Bitbuzz is smaller than its competitors and because Wi-Fi is all it does, it can offer a better service to venues compared to its competitors, French said. “For all the others, [Wi-Fi] is a rounding error,” he said. Because it’s small, Bitbuzz can add features and respond to customer needs quickly and easily, he said. For example, one venue didn’t want to offer the standard 24-hour access option and Bitbuzz was able to easily arrange to enable a 12-hour access period.
In addition, Bitbuzz will brand the service for a venue. “We are less concerned about forcing our brand and product on a hotel,” he said. Venues have the flexibility to set their own prices. That compares to some of the larger hotspot operators who may more prominently display their brands and control the pricing structures.
The disadvantage to being the small, local option is that Bitbuzz is a new face, French admits. Eircom, for example, could sell Wi-Fi access to venues as an up sell to a venue’s existing voice services. Eircom already has a foot in the door through its voice telephony service to customers.
But Bitbuzz may have another advantage as an independent player. Forming roaming agreements could be easier. “In a small market like Ireland with a small number of players, there are a lot of long standing rivalries,” he notes. “So if you have two mobile phone rivals who don’t roam for voice traffic, it’s a big psychological leap to roam for Wi-Fi.”
French suspects that Bitbuzz may be the only hotspot operator in the market to have reached out to companies like Boingo and iPass in hopes of forming roaming agreements. “For us it’s about carrying traffic, not about marketing to users,” said French.
In the upcoming year, one of the biggest questions in the Irish hotspot market will be if any of the international hotspot providers enter the market, French said. “It’s going to be the real question for the year. And if they do, will they do it with an existing player, or on their own?”
The Wi-Fi network in Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport is now available to iPass customers: This announcement includes some interesting statistics on network use at the airport. Attingo offers both wired and wireless access at the airport and doesn’t distinguish between the two in these figures. Still, the company has recorded a remarkable increase in network usage. In 2000, 45,000 users accessed the networks. In 2005, the company is projecting 800,000. The announcement says that marks a twofold increase, which would mean that 400,000 people accessed the networks in 2004. It’s also not clear if these numbers indicate individual connections, or actual individual users (who could access the network multiple times within the year). Attingo also said that in 2000 the average user spent 20 minutes online while they now spend 30 to 40 minutes online.
Broadreach will begin offering Wi-Fi services at Moto motorway stops in the UK: Swisscom had offered the service. Moto said it wanted Broadreach for its ability to offer both wireless and wired access.
We may start seeing some competition amongst providers for valuable and popular hotspots. For a long time now the market has been so wide open that if one operator scored an ideal location, there were plenty left for other operators. But at some point, the operators may start competing for locations as the most popular get scooped up.
The Port of Venice is using an interesting Wi-Fi-based tracking system in its parking lot: Because no cars are allowed into Venice, visitors often leave their cars in a parking lot owned by the Port. Visitors have to register online if they want to park in the lot. The Port now issues a tag for each car and can track the vehicle within the lot. It’s an interesting application and sounds like a very useful system for the Port.
I’m not clear about what happens to the tags after they are used on a vehicle. The ideal system would be one that just re-uses the tags. Otherwise, if I was parking in the lot, I’d want to make sure to throw the tag away once I left.
TeliaSonera customers can roam onto 500 NTT DoCoMo hotspots: As with the many, many other TeliaSonera HomeRun roaming relationships, this is one-account, one-bill, but isn’t a free roam. Swedish and Norwegian TeliaSonera customers can roam in February; Finnish starting in March. They are NTT DoCoMo’s first non-Japanese roaming partner.
Freedom2Surf, a UK ISP, is selling access to BT Openzone hotspots at half price: Freedom2Surf has bought access to BT’s network in bulk, then resells that access at £4.50 per day or £30 per month. That compares to BT’s £10 per day and £40 per month.
This news seems to confirm what one analyst points out as a trend toward lowered access fees. Strategy Analytics recently reported that operators will take longer than expected to realize a return on the $100 billion invested in Wi-Fi because competition is driving prices down.
I have to admit, I haven’t seen a lot of price decreases. Access still seems too high for end users, especially when users try to compare the price to typical charges for broadband access in the home. The market of people who spend so much time on the road that they can justify the pricey monthly subscription is just too small. A lower access fee and a broader base of hotspots to choose from will attract more users.