The public access Wi-Fi hot spot market just got a little hotter with Toshiba launching a project to deploy 10,000 hot spots in the US by the end of the year and Intel signing an agreement with the government of Singapore to support Wi-Fi roaming throughout Asia.
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Toshiba aims to become the "dominant supplier of 802.11b hot spot infrastructure and expects a considerable portion of the established public Wi-Fi market to be driven by hot spot operators and location owners capitalising on the hot spot trend."
Toshiba plans to sell what it calls a "hot spot in a box," including a Wi-Fi access card, controller and associated electronics, to resellers who will in turn sell it to partners such as convenience stores with a modest mark-up. Toshiba has an agreement with public access Wi-Fi company WorkingWild, which plans to install Wi-Fi service in 15,000 Circle K convenience stores.
Alan Reiter, an analyst at Wireless Internet & Mobile Computing, said Toshiba's low price of entry for hot spot hardware reflects the increasing commoditisation of the Wi-Fi market, with client PC cards now priced at $50 (£30) or less.
Adding to the growth of Wi-Fi, Intel is about to formally introduce its Centrino mobile chip family, which has Wi-Fi built-in. Gartner Group estimates that by 2005 more than 80% of professional notebook PCs will have Wi-Fi built-in, with a total worldwide base of 88.3 million Wi-Fi-equipped computers.
Reiter said Intel's desire to develop as wide a market as possible for Centrino-powered computers is the motivation behind the deal the company signed today with the Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore to boost Wi-Fi roaming in Asia.
The IDA-Intel Wireless Hotspots and Network Interworking Initiative, will carry out an internetworking study to explore ways to connect fixed-line and wireless networks and conduct interoperability tests on networking equipment. Under the program, Intel will also train Singaporean engineers at its facilities in the United States.
"As Wi-Fi-deployed data services become increasingly important to the mobile industry, it is critical that end users be able to easily move between different Wi-Fi networks," said Pat Gelsinger, Intel's chief technology officer. Total investment in the IDA-Intel project is pegged at $2.25m, mostly for manpower and equipment costs.
Intel has also backed Wi-Fi networks in the US. Last December - along with AT&T . and IBM - it formed Cometa Networks, which plans to roll out public access Wi-Fi service in the top 50 US markets.
Reiter said the "jury is still out" on Cometa, and Toshiba could well have the lead in a public access Wi-Fi market that still doesn't have a dominant player.