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Wireless Lan challenge to 3G heads for the UK

Finish networking company Jippii demonstrated the first citywide, wireless Lan to offer voice and data based on the 802.11 Ethernet standard.

The demonstration, held at Espalande park in Helsinki, Finland, used a laptop with an 802.11 card to demonstrate an alternative to the much-vaunted 3G services.

"We are currently looking at cities in the UK where we can set up a similar service, later on this year." said Dave Clarke, Jippii UK Director. "This is provided we can iron out some licensing issues, although we know that similar schemes have been given permission in the past," he added.

Unlike 3G, 802.11 wireless Ethernet doesn't require an operator's licence as it uses an open part of the Radio spectrum. However the UK's Radio Communications Agency, which manages the non-military radio spectrum in the UK, will still need to inspect Jippii's plans. The agency will want to make sure Jippii's powerful transmitters, which have a radius of 7.5km, comply with UK regulations and don't interfere with other systems. Jippii estimate that a it would cost around £65 million to deploy a WLAN in a UK city the size of Helsinki, which has a population of 600,000.

Data services have been available over the Jippii network for the past year with 600 corporate customers paying a flat £25 per month fee for access to their own 11mb data and voice stream. "We have several customers currently piloting the use of voice as well, " added Clarke.

"Although we see data services as the main customer demand, adding voice to data is not a gimmick." Said Clarke. He is keen to attract customers that have a number of branch offices connected by a data network that could use Jippii as a potential lower-cost alternative to 3G.

Clarke also said that handsets that offered GSM and 802.11 were under development by a major manufacturer, rumoured to be Sagem. Clarke would not confirm or deny this rumour.

Rob Gear, an Analyst at Ovum said "There is no reason why you can't do voice over WLAN, however provisioning services such as billing and roaming aren't inherent in 802.11b. It will be interesting to see how it compares to cellular."

Jippii is part of the wave of Scandinavian telecommunications companies trying to enter the UK market.

Will Garside

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