Wi-Fi security, not cost, will drive business take-up, claims BT Wireless chief

Cutting the price of Wi-Fi will not encourage more people to use it, claimed BT Group head of Wi-Fi Chris Clark.

Cutting the price of Wi-Fi will not encourage more people to use it, claimed BT Group head of Wi-Fi Chris Clark.

"The elasticity of price in Wi-Fi is still not proven," he said at the Wireless Lan Event in London's Olympia yesterday. "Reducing the price does not increase usage."

Earlier, Clark had been praising the success of BT Openzone's Wireless Broadband Week which, apparently, more than doubled the traffic on BT's Wi-Fi network by cutting prices.

Clark, formerly the president of BT Global Services, has moved into his present role because it is time to move Wi-Fi onto a commercial footing. "We are at an inflection point," he said. "Wi-Fi was a technology play, now it is a business play."

His predecessor, Dave Hughes, has become chief technical officer for BT Retail in a general shake-up of BT's upper echelons. "Dave will focus on new technologies such as WiMax," said Clark.

Clark's full argument is that Wi-Fi is a business service, not a consumer service, and the main barrier to business use are concerns about security, not cost.

"It is now about building user awareness," he said. "Large companies take longer to make decisions." They also need more detail on the "value proposition" than they are getting so far.

"The US marketplace is exceptional," said Clark, although he doubted that US operators were getting a lot more business by running at lower prices. 

However, Californian wireless research company ON World concluded that Europe was missing out on a massive Wi-Fi boom because prices were too high. European hotspot service prices were more than double the average price in the US and four times the average in the Asia-Pacific region.

Clark claimed BT's Wireless Broadband Week promotion - which targeted business users as well as consumers - drove more users onto Wi-Fi hotspots by offering free connection. "Traffic went up by 133% in one week," he said, adding that it was not just because it was free. "It has continued to rise."

As head of wireless broadband Clark intends to make it easier for corporations to get hold of Wi-Fi centrally, for instance by finding ways to package it with other access technologies, including GPRS and 3G.

Roaming between technologies might be nice in future, he implied, but for now the big thing was merging the bills. "3G and Wi-Fi are complementary, not competing," he said.

BT has no targets for Wi-Fi business, he said, although a previous promise to make £300m revenue by 2005 is still in place.

While IT users are uncertain about Wi-Fi, Clark expected steady growth rather than an explosion. "Usage is light, but that is not an issue. This is a maturing market."

Peter Judge writes for Techworld

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