Hotspots are access points set up in places such as airports, hotels, restaurants and other public spaces where a user equipped with an 802.11b wireless card can gain access to the Internet. With a bandwidth of up to 11mbps, users can run almost any application they would use if connected to a fixed network.
While HP's move is designed to stimulate take-up of its notebooks and iPaq Pocket PCs, it also adds weight to an approach that may steal some of the thunder from the much-vaunted 3G mobile telecoms revolution.
According to research group Analysys, the number of wireless Lan hotspots in public venues will reach 41,000, with 21 million users, by 2007. In contrast, 3G networks have yet to be rolled out and when they finally arrive from 2003 onwards device size, which determines processing power and usability, will limit the applications available to business users.
Ranjit Atal, an analyst at Gartner Dataquest, said, "This use of wireless Lans is a concern to the telcos - that is why we are seeing them getting involved. There are opportunities for wireless Lans [to gain acceptance] while 3G is stalled. Enterprises need to integrate their use into their working practices and become used to using them - they could be a stepping stone, enabling users to get used to what high-speed mobile services can offer."
HP's move follows recent announcements that IBM and Nokia plan to collaborate on a similar project and BT plans a UK network of wireless Lan hotspots.
HP is supporting its strategy with services including wireless Lan implementation; subscription services through partners that want to offer public wireless access services to customers; and software for billing, access and network management.