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A church in Wales is now offering Wi-Fi via BT Openzone: The vicar of the church found he couldn’t use the Openzone network, which covers much of Cardiff in Wales, mostly due to the thick walls of the church. So he asked Openzone to add an access point in the church and they complied. The access isn’t just for the vicar though—he said he’d be happy to have business people stop in for a quiet spot to do some email. One of a few downsides to this story is that like all Openzone hotspots, this one won’t be free to access.
Ireland’s Bitbuzz says it now has 5,000 customers: The operator also says that it has seen a 35 percent increase in network traffic each month over the last 18 months. On average, each Bitbuzz hotspot is used 3.5 times a day. These are not bad results for an operator in a country that isn’t particularly Wi-Fi-aware.
On a side note, it’ll be interesting to watch how Eircom’s phone booth initiative may affect operators like Bitbuzz. Eircom, the incumbent fixed line operator in Ireland, has been revamping its hotspots at phone booths. Just recently I’ve noticed that a huge number of phone boxes in Dublin now are plastered with signs indicating that they are hotspots. Many of these phone booths are just out front of restaurants or cafes. It will be interesting to see if these hotspots, which aren’t free, compete with existing hotspots that may already be available in the shops. It may be even more interesting to see how cafes and restaurants without their own hotspots may react to inadvertently attracting the laptop crowd. While the hotspots could be viewed as a positive development by many venue owners, there is the potential for some to be unhappy about the availability of Wi-Fi, especially if it’s not under their own control.
European aggregator Trustive is taking a combined wholesale and retail approach to the market: Trustive is a hotspot aggregator with 12,000 hotspots as part of its network, mainly in Europe. The company sells directly to end users but also sells wholesale access to the hotspots to other operators, such as ISPs or mobile operators. A deal with Mach, a company that specializes in inter-operator deals, can help with billing and other backend services. Tele2, one of the largest telecom resellers in Europe, is a Trustive customer, reselling hotspots under its own brand.
On the retail end, because Trustive doesn’t have a well-know brand, it has started by selling the service in just a few countries and has developed marketing agreements with companies including Nokia, Sony, Dell, and Belkin. Consumers who buy products from such brands will get a deal on Trustive access. “That’s for us an easier route to reach customers because they’re already familiar with that brand,” said Bram Jan Streefland, Trustive co-founder and director of business development.
The fact that Trustive offers both retail and wholesale access is unique, he said. The retail side of the business is valuable because once a new customer signs up for service, Trustive can begin earning revenue straight away. The wholesale deals often take a year or longer to work through before a paying customer actually starts using the network.
However, targeting both the retail and wholesale markets also means that Trustive is competing directly with its wholesale customers. That’s not much of a problem, Steefland says, because Trustive’s wholesale customers are likely to be larger companies with well-established brands that are unlikely to be threatened by the lesser known Trustive brand.
Boingo is potentially the biggest aggregator that competes directly with Trustive. Boingo’s network includes over 6,000 hotspots in Europe . Ultimately the two will race to get the most hotspots in their networks, Steefland said, but each may continue to have an advantage among local customers.
While aggregators like Boingo and Trustive continue to add new hotspots to their networks, the broader environment for hotspot roaming is still quite disjointed. There is no clear leader among the many companies trying to cobble together the biggest network, making it a confusing marketplace for end users. Some operators are going it alone, lining up roaming agreements with individual other operators, such as the deal with Telecom Italia and NTT.
An ISP in Scotland is hoping to support small businesses that want to offer hotspots: It’s not crystal clear who is doing what here but the ISP, Lumison, is offering a hosted hotspot product in partnership with MyZones, a company that offers a hosted hotspot platform. The idea is similar to others that have popped up around the world aimed at making it easier for small venues that may not have IT expertise to launch and manage hotspots. According to this story, Scotland has about 500 hotspots across the country.
Trustive, a hotspot aggregator, signed a deal with Airpath that adds at least 2,600 hotspots to its network: Trustive now says its network includes 12,000 hotspots globally. The agreement does two things for Trustive. Trustive is now part of the Airpath Provider Alliance, which gives Trustive access to the 2,600 hotspots. Trustive is also using Airpath’s hosted roaming and clearinghouse platform, which means that Trustive can easily form additional deals with other users of that platform. Airpath’s setup sounds a lot like a service that iPass offers, where it provides some back office functions that enable roaming and makes it easy for operators that use the service to roam with each other.
A while back I was predicting some consolidation among aggregators as well as among roaming platform suppliers. But instead it seems like more and more of each are popping up. I would think that the market would only be able to carry just a few aggregators, otherwise the traffic is spread too thin. Ultimately, if all these aggregators have deals with all the same hotspot providers, it’s not clear what will distinguish them from each other, in the eyes of the end user. A few scenarios could play out here. The aggregators could basically be in a race to sign up every last operator, as each one tries to be able to boast having the most hotspots available. At the same time they could try to establish a brand that will attract end users—Trustive looks like it’s after a sort of “hip” and “be free” kind of image. Or the aggregators could target certain niche markets (for instance iPass specifically targets enterprises).
Westminster Council’s Wi-Fi network is being opened to the public through a deal with BT Openzone: The council built the network in parts of the city of Westminster and has been using it for council applications such as CCTV and staff use. In April last year when the Register first covered this network, a council spokesperson said they’d like to open the network to residents for a fee but that a different regulatory framework would be required to allow the council to operate a commercial service. Perhaps this arrangement with BT allows the council to comply with such regulations.
NTT signed roaming deals with BT and Telecom Italia: Customers of NTT’s hotspot service can roam onto BT’s and Telecom Italia’s hotspots. NTT’s network, including roaming partners, now includes 35,000 hotspots in Asia, North America, and Europe.
UK supermarket chain Tesco will start stocking access points: Linksys products including access points and network adapters will be sold from some of Tesco’s 1,878 stores in the UK. Linksys products are sold from other huge worldwide retailers, such as Wal-Mart in the U.S.
BT Ireland opened ten public hotspots in Drogheda, a town just north of Dublin: This article notes that BT Ireland (which officially changed its name from Esat BT in April) plans to make this Ireland’s first Wi-Fi town, but in March, Cork launched a network. The Drogheda launch sounds a lot like many small towns in the U.S. that have introduced Wi-Fi in their city centers. In the U.S., city governments vaguely say that they hope the Wi-Fi will attract businesses to town. I can’t really see how a free Wi-Fi network can help. Few businesses would rely on that connection for all of their Internet and email needs, if only because it would be insecure. The US Ambassador to Ireland, who helped launch the network in Drogheda, also thinks the network will help entrepreneurs who work from home. However, I’m doubtful that any “entrepreneur” would rely on a free Wi-Fi network for the same reason a business wouldn’t. I’m not trying to criticize free Wi-Fi networks because I personally would love to see a free network covering Dublin, but I think that cities are misguided when they suppose that building such networks will attract new businesses to town. If a city has some specific offering over the network that is attractive to businesses, the network could be a draw. But the network itself won’t automatically draw businesses to town.
Community Broadband Networks has compiled a list of broadband projects in the UK: It has tallied 550 towns and villages that have launched some form of broadband networking project, many of them wirelessly. The director of Community Broadband Network asserts that while broadband is now widely available in the UK, these community groups have moved on to develop other cutting edge projects. He lists some of them, including a few that develop local content services and potential mobile or portable services. [Link via WISP Centric]
Wayport plans to acquire NetPoint, a provider of Internet access to the hospitality industry: NetPoint serves 120 hotels, apparently mainly Radissons, in Europe and the Middle East. Before this acquisition, Wayport’s international presence was limited to about a dozen Four Season hotels.
Boingo officially announced its roaming agreement with Irish hotspot operator Bitbuzz: The deal is the first for Boingo in Ireland. Bitbuzz operates 55 hotspots in Ireland and recently also signed a deal with Vodafone that allows the small percentage of Vodafone postpay cellular subscribers to receive a single bill for Bitbuzz hotspot use and cellular usage.
Vodafone and Boingo are two big names to enter the market in Ireland and their presence might help spur the market a bit by drawing attention to Ireland. Eircom and BT Openzone also operate hotspots here as do some others including Swisscom which just has a few hotels. BT Openzone has about 75 hotspots in Ireland and Eircom operates hotspots in McDonald’s restaurants across the country as well as some hotels and other locations. But this market hasn’t seen a slew of startups chasing the space like in many other countries.
UK hotspot provider Broadreach is using roaming services from T-Systems: T-Systems is a unit of Deutsche Telekom that helps operators support roaming with other operators. After seeming to emerge out of the blue without any sort of big launch, T-Systems is quietly racking up customers. I’ve been a bit skeptical of the operation because the company is mysteriously reluctant to disclose names of its customers. It claims 120 customers but has released only around ten names of customers, most of them quite small.
First Great Western and First Great Western Link plan to offer Wi-Fi at all their stations: The Cloud will install the hotspots in the 85 stations, starting with ten that should be available this summer. Users will be able to work on the train, uploading and downloading information via the Internet when the trains pull into stations.
UK trains have been aggressive in rolling out Wi-Fi services. This particular announcement is interesting because it may be simpler for First Great Western to deploy the hotspots in stations only, rather than along the entire line. Such a deployment will be less expensive for the rail operator to build and maintain and can still be very useful for train travelers.