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3Com says that some of its hospitality customers in Ireland are beginning to offer free access to Wi-Fi networks: This is part of a move away from relying on hotspot operators to build and maintain the networks toward building and managing their own Wi-Fi networks. Two 3Com customers, the Lynch Hotel and Bewley’s Hotel Groups, are offering Wi-Fi for free.
If this is indeed the start of a trend, we can expect a couple of developments. Over a year ago in the U.S., there was endless debate on the free vs. fee subject. While it’s still not totally certain how that conundrum will work out, these days in the U.S. it seems that both models may continue to work. In the hotel business, in a strange twist, it seems that the lower cost hotels are offering Wi-Fi for free while often the higher end hotels charge for access. It’ll be interesting to see if a similar phenomenon happens in Europe or if the free vs. fee debate will take a different turn.
This article also touches on enterprises and their use of Wi-Fi, looking at security issues. I’ve noticed a few articles recently pointing to companies that want to allow visitors to access their Wi-Fi networks while preventing the visitors from accessing important information that lives on the corporate network. The need to separate traffic and support other enterprise-grade services may prove an entrée to Europe for the WLAN switch and security appliance vendors. Such companies secured a lot of headlines in the U.S. last year but I’m not seeing much mention of them in Europe yet. As enterprises here begin to embrace WLANs more, perhaps those companies will move into the market in order to support enterprise services.
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.
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.