Toshiba of Canada Information Systems Group‘s latest product could help bring wireless Internet access down to the level of fast food.

The laptop maker introduced wireless routers to its product line Tuesday at a downtown Toronto

restaurant. The WRC-10000HS retails for $299 and can be installed for about $100, according to the Toshiba Corp. subsidiary.

While the move into access points is a bit of departure from its traditional devices, Mary Ann Yule, vice-president of marketing for Toshiba Canada, says the technology is a natural fit.

“”Toshiba is a mobile computer company. We’ve always been in the notebook space and we are huge proponents of mobility to Canadians,”” Yule says. “”We’re expanding the mobility offering by enabling hot spots throughout Canada so that people have access to wire LANs wherever they are.””

There are currently about 40 to 50 hot spots (wireless access points) around Canada, according to Warren Chaisatien, a senior analyst with Toronto-based IDC Canada. Yule says it plans to have more than 1,000 by year-end. Many of those points, she predicts, will be in hotel lobbies, restaurants and cafes. “”They’re going to be anyplace where people congregate or there’s traffic,”” she adds.

Each port is said to support 253 simultaneous WiFi users, but Chaisatien says 50 is a more reasonable number. In that range, he says, users can expect transfer speeds similar to DSL at home.

“”I think it is a very good and encouraging sign,”” says Chaisatien. “”Everyone in the entire IT spectrum has embraced wireless/mobility as their key business theme going forward.”” He says Cisco and Intel are hard work trying to exploit this market, while Bell and Telus have recently launched hotspot pilots of their own.

While a number of big players are involved in the market, no one has cornered it. Chaisatien says the wireless Internet service provider market resembles the ISP market eight to 10 years ago: fragmented, regional and propriety resulting islands of networks.

Another thing these companies have in common is they probably aren’t making money.

“”Yes, they have a lot of market share because they are early start-up companies. Are they really making money? I doubt it,”” he says, but adds no one can afford to wait on the sidelines.

“”This is very important to wireless carriers like Bell Mobility, Telus and Rogers. They dominate the cellular market, the wide area market, and now this emerging pocket is going so fast. Somehow they will get into this market.””

Chaisatien says Toshiba and its resellers should target wireless Internet service providers, not individual businesses, to get the devices in the door.

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