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The British Library, the national library of the UK, charges users for Wi-Fi access: At least one user is complaining about the fee, which is a bit less but not much so than most of the commercial offerings. The British Library appears to be profiting from the service because the network is offered to the library free of charge. I browsed around the library’s Web site and didn’t find any mention of wired Internet access—I thought that perhaps the library figures if you can afford to buy a laptop and bring it to the library you can afford to pay for wireless Internet access. Most if not all libraries in the United States that have Wi-Fi offer it for free. It’s really a public service like the rest of the library offerings.
Apparently, threats breed interest in municipal networks: If the UK had telcos screaming about unfair competition, there might be more interest in building municipal networks, according to this amusing piece.
Thalys service from Paris to Brussels had 4 Mbps down, 2 Mbps up via satellite: The European train operator in conjunction with 21Net, Siemens, and Garderos pulled off these speeds at 300 km/h. The pilot project runs for three months on a single train, but Thalys says they’ll equip all 28 trains with this service if the pilot is successful. Each passenger receives their login information when they get a seat assignment, which is a clever way to promote the service.
I’ve traveled the rails in Europe and know that it’s a no-no to talk on your cell phone in the train cars—at least en première classe. Will VoIP over broadband undermine the social order?
Vodafone has signed with BitBuzz and BT OpenZone to offer its 530,000 Irish customers Wi-Fi hotspot access: The price is an outrageous €5 for 30 minutes or €10 per hour—outrageous from my U.S. vantage point, but apparently not out of line in Ireland. Vodafone will apparently also allowing roaming across Europe “without roaming fees” as the article puts it—but obviously priced in this same fashion. (Ironically, I’m reporting this from Seattle; our Dublin correspondent, Nancy Gohring, is on holiday.)
BT’s chief of wireless broadband thinks that media reports covering security issues with Wi-Fi may deter usage: I’m not sure what he’s suggesting—that we don’t write about security problems? That’s hardly a solution. It’s better for users to know the risks so they can do their best to protect themselves, rather than start using Wi-Fi blind to the risks. The threat of less usage due to security concerns can also spur the industry to improve security. BT’s reaction to the hysterical stories that may exaggerate the problems should be to help set the record straight, not try to suppress all coverage of the topic.
Contrast BT’s attitude with T-Mobile’s: on the T-Mobile Web site, they spell out the risk in gory detail: “As with any high-speed wireless service, the T-Mobile HotSpot network is not inherently secure. Furthermore, wireless communications can be intercepted by equipment and software designed for that purpose.” Of course, T-Mobile has been offering 802.1X authentication—each account gets a unique strong session encryption key when a user logs in using this process—for several months in the U.S.
It might not be long before most of the UK has Internet access on the rails: It looks like yet another group, this time Cisco and QinetiQ, want to provide Internet access to rail passengers. The UK appears to be a crucible for this kind of service and competition, with now three competing providers: Broadreach, Icomera, and this latest entrant. They may face a shortage of trains to equip!
The networks covering eight cities in Finland are now open to visitors: The networks were built using equipment from Radionet and they support mobility. It sounds like the eight networks are actually contiguous, truly making up one large hotzone. In trying to read between the lines, it sounds like the news here is that now customers in one city can also use the hotzones in other cities, giving each subscriber access to the entire network. Other people can use the network to, paying with pre-paid vouchers, credit cards, and cell phones. I haven’t been able to find the announcement online but it may appear here eventually.
Bridgend in Wales appears to have contracted with The Cloud for Wi-Fi networks: Initially, 10 libraries will get coverage and ultimately a network will cover the town center. The Cloud will build the network so customers of 20 service providers who are The Cloud partners will be able to use the network.
The story notes that the government is worried that some people can’t afford to get online or don’t have computers. But this plan doesn’t exactly help because it sounds like users will have to pay to access the network.
A new terminal being built at Heathrow will have three wireless networks: A private network will be used by emergency and security workers, a cellular network will serve anyone, and a WLAN will be used by visitors, baggage handlers, shops, and airport workers. The company building the terminal used software from a company called Wireless Valley to help plan everything from where to lay cables to how certain building materials like metal will impact the RF signals. The terminal and networks aren’t expected to be complete until March 2008.
Telebria is offering a portable hotspot: Users connect to the hotspot via Wi-Fi and the access point uses 3G or GPRS for backhaul. The access point can also detect if it is in range of a Telebria mesh network and if so, it can use that network for backhaul.
Telebria calls this the “first” portable hotspot but it’s not. In March, O2 said it would start selling a device from Novatel that uses 3G for backhaul and Wi-Fi for access. And last year a company called Junxion began selling a similar device.
The Telebria access point supports data cards from Vodafone, O2, T-Mobile, and Orange. The press release should eventually appear here.
Islington in London is to get a mile long free Wi-Fi network starting tomorrow: BelAir Networks, which offers a mesh solution, supplied the network. Users can access the network with 802.11b clients and BelAir uses 802.11g for backhaul. There is some inconclusive discussion in this article about how the free network will coincide with the commercial hotspots offered by BT. There are some vague quotes here from Phil Belanger at BelAir about how existing BT Openzone customers are likely to continue to subscribe to that service and that the free network is available for “other reasons” than to compete with the BT network. I would conclude that the free network could steal the minimal potential customers who might exclusively need hotspots within the one mile stretch. Otherwise, BT Openzone will still appeal to customers who rely on hotspot access throughout a broader territory.
Mesh Broadband, a company offering wireless Internet access in Bedfordshire County in the UK, has mysteriously shut down: I’m not totally clear if the network has actually been shut off yet. Mesh Broadband was a subcontractor for Cable & Wireless and the venture to build the network in the rural area was funded by the East of England Development Agency. According to the Register, a message at the Mesh Broadband phone line says that the network is currently unsupported. News coverage of the issue reveal that no one seems to know anything about why the company shut down and what will happen to the network, although the Bedfordshire County Council is hopeful that Cable & Wireless can figure out how to support existing customers and complete the build of the rest of the network.
It’s hard to know how much to read into this. Hopefully, Mesh Broadband’s failure is an isolated incident and not an indication of difficulties that companies might have in using government funding to serve rural areas. There are many initiatives across Europe where governments fund or partly fund the building and maintenance of broadband networks serving areas that the commercial providers aren’t interested in.
The Brighton Express uses pre-WiMax gear to achieve 60 miles of coverage at 100 mph: Peter Judge reports from the London-to-Brighton line that although coverage is yet contiguous—that’s still to come—the service offers seamless performance across each base station zone by relaying Wi-Fi in the carriages to WiMax base stations along the route. T-Mobile is involved in this unwiring—which was carried out by Nomad Digital—and is offering the service at no charge while they tune the system.
The estimate is that the 37 802.16d-based Redline devices will need to be increased to 60, or a density of about one per mile, to provide complete coverage. The limit on speed right now is the ADSL backhaul of 2 Mbps per base station. The service switches to GPRS when out of range of WiMax bonding three GPRS devices. Only one train out of 15 is equipped so far.
T-Mobile will charge £5 per hour or £13 per day for service starting in June.
The London to Edinburgh line will see Wi-Fi on all coaches by 2007: The COO of GNER says that the Icomera-supplied GPRS-linked Wi-Fi service has seem remarkable increases in usage: 50 percent more users within five months of adding its 10th Wi-Fi equipped train. That sounds like a story problem: “If 100 Wi-Fi users are simultaneously downloading Page 3 girls on a train traveling north at 60 km/h…”
First-class passengers will pay nothing for service; standard-class pay £2.95 for 30 minutes. The company has added a Web site on its Wi-Fi service, too.
BT Openzone is building hotspots in three BMW showrooms in London: BMW drivers can access the network while they wait for their cars to be cleaned or repaired. The access isn’t free.
A couple of car dealerships in Atlanta in the U.S. have introduced Wi-Fi in their showrooms. Like the BMW offering, the service is aimed at people who are waiting for repairs to be completed.
We can all now rest easier knowing that we’ll be able to get written news of the royal wedding as soon as humanly possible tomorrow: BT has built a temporary hotspot to cover a hotel across from Windsor Castle to serve all the journalists covering Prince Charles’ wedding tomorrow. There’s no pricing information here but I’d assume that journalists will pay a premium to be able to access the network. If it helps them file their stories quicker, the publications they write for are likely glad to foot the bill. Over the past couple years, we’ve seen that venues are increasingly willing and able to build such temporary networks to serve journalists at special events.
A group of companies and a university in the UK are researching the possibility of using higher power limits for broadband wireless in unlicensed spectrum in rural areas: Lucent is involved in the project. Some people in the U.S. have pushed hard for the FCC to allow higher power in rural areas where the signals wouldn’t interfere with anyone else and where it would be really useful, because of the sparse populations, to be able to really boost the coverage area. Dave Hughes, the well-known, highly regarded researcher, has been vocal in trying to encourage the FCC to make such allowances.
BT’s Openzone has signed a roaming deal with Broadreach: Curiously, BT is an investor in Broadreach, which operates 350 hotspots. It’s a two-way roaming deal, so Openzone customers can use Broadreach hotspots and Broadreach customers can roam onto Openzone hotspots.
After accepting responses to a request for proposals, the Dublin Airport Authority (DAA) chose Eircom, the incumbent telecom provider in Ireland, as the exclusive Wi-Fi network operator at the airport: The DAA said that Eircom must allow other operators to access the network, though it’s not clear yet exactly how Eircom will be required to open the network. Bitbuzz, a hotspot operator in Ireland, believes the DAA is improperly acting like a regulator and is potentially breaking anti-competition laws.
Last year in the U.S., some airports tried to dictate which operators could install Wi-Fi and attempted to forbid Wi-Fi in certain areas. In response, the FCC reminded the public that it has the exclusive right to resolve matters involving radio frequency interference. In other words, airport authorities and property owners in the U.S. are not in the position to dictate who may or may not offer Wi-Fi service.
Bitbuzz has applied to the DAA for work permits to install Wi-Fi for three customers including bars and business lounges at the airport and has been refused permission. The company was granted a permit to install wired access for one customer at the airport but it is still forbidden from installing Wi-Fi.
Bitbuzz believes that the DAA does not have the authority to forbid it from offering Wi-Fi in the airport and also feels that the DAA may be breaking laws by creating a monopoly within the airport. Bitbuzz has had conversations with ComReg, the spectrum regulator in Ireland and ComReg recommended that Bitbuzz work with the Competition Authority, which is responsible for enforcing Ireland’s competition laws. Bitbuzz has submitted a complaint to the Competition Authority.
Bitbuzz has also repeatedly tried to discuss the matter with the chairman and also with the CEO of the DAA but has either been told they are too busy or to wait for a response in due time.
While Bitbuzz believes that the DAA doesn’t have the authority to dictate spectrum use, the company also has some other problems with DAA’s proposal. “We think the Competition Authority might find it interesting to look at the contract between Eircom and the airport because we’ve heard that they include huge payouts from Eircom to Dublin Airport on the order of six figures in return for being the exclusive provider,” said Alex French, director of operations at Bitbuzz. “They must feel they can get that back by charging consumers high prices.”
Bitbuzz did not submit a proposal for the exclusive contract. “We always felt it was something we didn’t want to get involved in,” said French. Bitbuzz was reluctant to apply for a contract that it felt was illegal. “If the Competition Authority rules that it is illegal, there’s going to be a big issue with the provider who won the tender,” he said. Plus, the large payouts to the DAA didn’t make sense to the company.
It’s unclear at this stage how the DAA will require Eircom to share the network—either through roaming agreements or wholesale. The DAA has said that it will dictate the price of such deals based on a benchmark. “The problem is that the DAA is acting as a regulator but they have no experience with that,” said French. “Even ComReg, the regulator, struggles at times to keep Eircom under control and sometimes they have to take them to court to get them to lower prices.”
The DAA has said that there are technical reasons that it is forbidding multiple operators from serving the airport. French points to U.S. airports, some of which have many different Wi-Fi services running simultaneously, to refute that argument. In addition, last year the DAA allowed three or four of the operators vying for the exclusive contract to temporarily offer services in the airport and the networks coexisted just fine, said French.
French believes that the contract was awarded to Eircom four or five months ago but since then he’s only been able to find one or two live APs in the airport.
French is also concerned about the precedent that could be set if the DAA’s plan is allowed. If the DAA is allowed to dictate which operator can serve airport customers, it could mean that apartment building owners or office owners can also dictate which wired or wireless operators can serve their tenants.
UK Wi-Fi operator The Cloud bought Airnyx, a hotspot operator in Germany: Airnyx has built 500 hotspots in locations including petrol stations in Germany. The Cloud already has 5,000 hotspots in the UK and plans to open up the Germany network to roamers who subscribe to other networks.
Eircom is offering cafes and other venues a Hotspot in a Box service in Ireland: Venues buy an access point from Eircom which is configured to link back to Eircom’s authentication and payment systems. Eircom essentially sells sign-in vouchers to the cafe at a 25 percent discount. The cafe in turn sells the vouchers to end users. Eircom hotspot subscribers can also use the hotspots. Cafes can also opt to pay Eircom €50 per month and offer customers 30-minute free-access vouchers. In both cases, the cafe pays for its own DSL line for backhaul.
This is not a particularly good deal. While it takes care of billing and potentially draws existing Eircom hotspot customers into the venue, it appears that there is no setup or ongoing technical support. Venues also have to charge customers an exorbitant €10 per hour if they want to earn any share of the revenue. To be fair, that price is fairly standard in Ireland for hotspot access but it doesn’t allow venues the flexibility of charging what they like.
Bitbuzz, a hotspot operator that offers to build and maintain networks for venues, isn’t worried about the potential new competition. BT began making a similar offering over a year ago and while Bitbuzz was initially concerned about the potential competition, it didn’t ultimately make a difference, said Alex French, operations director at Bitbuzz. The Eircom and BT offerings could affect Bitbuzz’s efforts at winning customers on the low-end of the coffee shop market, but French doesn’t expect to notice much an impact. Bitbuzz pays for and installs the access points and asks locations to buy a certain amount of network usage time each month. The venue can choose whether to give access to customers for free or charge any fee they like for access.
The Hotspot in a Box may be part of a larger change in hotspot strategies at Eircom. In December, the company introduced free access to hotspots that were delivered from Eircom pay phones. I noticed yesterday that at least one of those hotspots now requires a fee for access and I’ve heard that some of the other phone booth hotspots have gone down or are also now charging fees for access. I spoke with an Eircom press representative a couple of weeks ago who said the company was re-evaluating the phone booth concept and he wasn’t able to give me additional details at the time.
Editor’s note: Please note that an earlier version had Eircom offering a 75 percent discount on vouchers. Thanks to Alex for the correction.