Mobile wi-fi agreements welcomed by analysts

Analysts have cautiously welcomed Vodafone UK and Orange’s moves to give their customers access to BT Openzone wireless hotspots.

Analysts have cautiously welcomed Vodafone UK and Orange’s moves to give their customers access to BT Openzone wireless hotspots.

Earlier this week, Vodafone announced an agreement that will give customers of the mobile provider hotspot-access from early next year.

Meanwhile, Orange has announced trials for corporate customers including Hilton and Cadbury Schweppes to access Wireless LAN, GPRS and High Speed Circuit Switch Data services.

The development is a small step forward for mobile data access. At the moment laptop and handheld computer users are able to use GSM and GPRS mobile phone networks to connect into their corporate IT systems.

Wireless hotspots, such as the service run by Starbucks, allow mobile users to connect to an 802.11 wireless LAN. But, until now, users have needed to subscribe to a wireless hotspot service.

The new agreements with BT Openzone will eventually enable Orange and Vodafone users to roam between wireless networks.

But there are several barriers that need to be overcome before wireless roaming is as easy as International roaming on mobile phone networks.

Clive Longbottom, an analyst at Quocirca, said, “It is a good move which means that we will not end up with more operators with their own infrastructures.

"On the negative side it still means we are a long way from true wide-ranging roaming where devices automatically switch between the best connection available in a given area and bill for it.”

Julian Hewitt, an analyst at research firm Ovum, said Vodafone was positioning itself for an expected rise in the popularity of public wireless LAN.

“Everyone is terribly convinced wireless hotspots will sweep the world but no one has yet found a way to make money from them. In the meantime, though, everyone is trying to position themselves,” he said.

“It’s of benefit to the user in that such deals mean more places to get wireless coverage for more people. It would be nice to think integrated billing will be another benefit, but this is an incredibly hard thing to achieve and I wouldn’t expect that for at least 12 months.”

BT Openzone has so far this year implemented hundreds of hotspots around the UK in motorway service stations, airports, conference centres, hotels and cafes. It expects to have some 4,000 in place by summer 2004.

Vodafone will introduce its wireless LAN service early next year, making it easy for users to access the Web, email and corporate LANs through the Openzone network.


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