Carrier ignorance holds back WLANs, experts say

ATLANTA — A panel of wireless experts say awareness and pricing strategies need to improve before public access WLANs can flourish.

If you’ve set foot in an airport, a hotel lobby or a café lately, chances are you’ve been to a Wi-Fi hot spot and could get access to a high-speed wireless

Internet connection. There’s also a chance you didn’t know it was Wi-Fi.

Although the adoption of IEEE 802.11 — also referred to as wireless fidelity or Wi-Fi — is growing, lack of marketing and counterintuitive pricing is keeping the public from embracing wireless LANs outside of the office, industry representatives told an audience at Networld + Interop Tuesday.

Pointing to his company’s recently-developed partnership with Rogers AT&T Wireless, Mobility Network Systems Inc. CTO Mike Ritter said that the industry has seen significant growth over the past year. Mobility Network Systems makes carrier-class software to help mobile telecom operators enter the wireless LAN business — something most carriers didn’t even know they could do a year ago, he said.

“”They had no idea what Wi-Fi was,”” he said. “”Six months ago, they’d actually heard about it. Three months ago they started saying, we’ve already bought something. So it’s moving forward.””

Ritter said Rogers AT&T Wireless began developing Wi-Fi capabilities to get a jump on its competitors. The market still largely belongs to small service providers however, said Boingo Wireless Inc. president Dave Hagan, whose company provides high-speed wireless Internet access using the Wi-Fi standard.

“”The market is very fragmented, with a lot of small carriers,”” he said. “”I think that’s going to continue. It will continue to be fragmented even if large carriers jump into it in a big way.””


That’s because the technology is used most in public spaces such as airports, cafes and hotels, so the possibility of outlets is virtually inexhaustible, he said.

“”There really isn’t a land-grab opportunity here. There are over a million public places in the U.S. alone. All of them have the potential to be Wi-Fi hot spots,”” he said.

Hagan also warned that the big telecos don’t necessarily have an advantage over the smaller service providers when it comes to wireless data services and pointed to their spotty success track records as ISPs.

“”They’d need to focus on Wi-Fi and concentrate on innovation, where they missed the boat on the first time around,”” he said.

On the other hand, it is inevitable that the large carriers will get more involved, which is to the WLAN market’s general benefit, said Ritter.

“”What you’re going to get then, is connectivity wherever you go,”” he said.

Major marketing efforts will be needed to inform the public that the technology is even available to them, said Joel Short, senior vice president and CTO of Westlake Village, Calif.-based software developer Nomadix.

“”Right now, if you go to an airport you’re in a major Wi-Fi hot spot,”” he said. “”The trouble is you don’t know it.””

Another major kink to iron out is the pricing structure for use of wireless LANs in public access places, Hagan said, since most people don’t like to keep track of amounts they’ve downloaded, preferring a flat fee structure.

“”Pricing is a core differentiating factor between the major telecos and the entrepreneurial startups. The major carriers like billing per megabyte. I’m highly opposed to that kind of billing,”” he said. “”Users don’t like feeling like there’s a meter going. I think unlimited access is the way to go.””

Like with any new technology, prices will eventually drop, said Short, making it more appealing to use.

Even with some initial challenges to overcome the forecast is good for Wi-Fi technology, Ritter said.

“”It’s just that it started from such a small platform. Right now you’re just hearing about the technology, in a year or two it’ll be everywhere,”” he said.

Networld + Interop continues until Thursday.


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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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