Bell Canada chooses 802.11b for WLAN services

Bell Canada’s pursuit of the Canadian wireless LAN market could be successful in the enterprise sector but the telco is facing an uphill battle with SMBs, according to an analyst.

The company officially launched its WLAN services Tuesday,

offering an enterprise solution based on the 802.11b standard. It aims to provide the network infrastructure, applications and products to deliver mobile high-speed Internet and LAN access to customers across the country.

Bell Ontario president Terry Mosey said the launch is a result of a year-long process of market research and careful consideration by a team of 150 Bell employees, whose goal was to carefully consider what technology and services would be best for the telecommunications giant to enter the market with.

Bell has been working with a number of clients over the last few months in testing out its new solution, said general manager of Bell Canada’s cabling and wireless LAN business unit Kerry Eberwein. He said issues of network security were of particular concern in the solution’s development stage.

Bell’s primary focus up to now has been on the health-care sector, Eberwein says. The company has rolled out the solution at Markham Stouffville Hospital, in Markham, Ont. The hospital used the wireless network and its 100 access points to automate its health records system. Bell is also interested in the education market.

Although the company is evaluating entering into the public access hot spot market, no definite plans have been made in respect to when or where Bell could begin providing access, Eberwein said.

The cautious approach may turn out to profit Bell Canada, according to IDC Canada senior telecommunications analyst Warren Chaisatien, because although the WLAN market is certainly a hot topic of conversation right now, Canadian businesses are not too willing to part with the money to set them up.

Getting people to adopt a WLAN solution is most difficult in the small and medium business and consumer space, where not all the customers Bell would be targeting have the necessary high-speed backbone, Chaisatien said.

“”I think Sympatico would have a hell of a job to do,”” he said. “”They would have to say, ‘Look, if you want this you have to install a DSL first. And by the way if you want your employees to roam you have to buy (additional devices).’ So that’s a double hurdle, the infrastructure is just not there.””

The story is much different however, if you’re looking at large enterprises who have high-speed backbones in place and are introducing smaller scale wireless solutions in growing numbers. For them going mobile just makes sense, Chaisatien said.

Telus Mobility disputes Bell Canada’s claim to be the first large Canadian telecommunications company to enter the WLAN market. Robert Blumenthal, the company’s vice-president of product and services, points out that Telus has been active in the market for over a year and has developed a number of large enterprise clients including the University of British Columbia, where the school rolled out a 1,000 access point WLAN solution.

Unlike Bell, Telus has actively gone into the consumer side of the market, offering its Western Canada DSL clients wireless access through partnerships with developers such as Irvine, CA-based D-Link Systems Inc.

Chaisatien cautioned however, that while Western Canada has seen some success in the consumer wireless network space, demand for these services does not generally translate to the rest of the country, where a weakened economy has even made large enterprises cautious about investing in new technology.

“”In a few years this market should take off because Canadian businesses have the necessary infrastructure for this technology and are ready to adopt it,”” he said. “”But they need to see a clear connection between the technology and savings, return on investment. Companies like Bell have to concentrate on creating excitement around this space if they want to do well.””

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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