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Issue #2003 - 08 (March 2003)
(Updated Mar. 10, 2003)


WiFi News This Week

1. iPass and Cometa to Work Together on Wi-Fi Networks - iPass to make available Cometa's planned metro-area Wi-Fi networks as part of its Global Broadband Roaming service

2. Toshiba and Accenture Join Hands to offer hot spot in a box
After several months of waiting and testing, Irvine,CA's Toshiba's Computer Systems Group (CSG) has launched its Toshiba Hotspot Solution. The goal: 10,000 hotspots based on Toshiba's hardware by the end of the year.

Toshiba has long seen price as the stumbling block to getting more venues to install hotspots.

"It didn't seem economically rational for the hotspot folks to pay for expensive equipment," says John Marston, VP of Business Development at Toshiba CSG. "The work we've done for the last year and half is about how to take the cost out of the business."

The box Toshiba will provide to channel partners, who will then resell them to venue owners, is an integrated router and 802.11b access point complete with access point controller built in, all for $199 wholesale. The hardware is designed for use with inexpensive DSL lines using dynamic IP addressing, saving a venue owner having to own a more expensive static IP from their provider or a $500+ T1 line.

All the monitoring for the hotspots will take place back at the Toshiba network operations center (NOC). Toshiba will be working with Accenture (Quote, Company Info) for the program's business and operational support, from billing to end-user help.

"Think of us as being like Cometa," says Marston, "but cheaper and with a six month lead on them."

The program has been in beta trialing since May of 2002, and as of January 29 Toshiba started to ship full production models of the hotspot hardware.

Toshiba is launching a program with the same business model in Canada, and will hit "country after country."

To identify the hotspots, Toshiba expects venues to us the Wi-Fi ZONE sticker, a program recently begun by the Wi-Fi Alliance. He points out that the sticker can carry a Toshiba logo as well. The upcoming launch of Intel's Centrino mobile platform and its accompanying ad campaign is also likely to help push

The cost of the Toshiba hardware for venue owners will probably be a bit more than $200 (so resellers can see some profit). Marston figures just two or three customers a day at a hotspot paying $10 per 24-hour access will let the venue owner break even: the cost of the box and the DSL line is so low, especially amortized over a year. This is even taking into account a revenue split where Toshiba gets 50%, the reseller/operator gets 30% and the venue owner gets 20%.

Toshiba partners will vary from big nationals to small local resellers, all pushing to get as many hotspots into communities as possible. The Toshiba-based hotspots will also be part of the iPass Global Broadband Roaming service, so corporate iPass users can use them to access their enterprise networks while traveling.

"If you've got 2000 hotspots in your city, it gets interesting. Only two, that's academic," says Marston. "There's got to be tens of thousands of them. I'm confident we'll achieve it."

3. Inspired, Leisure Link to blanket UK with 30,000 hot spots
U.K.-based Inspired Broadcast next Monday will launch its "pubs and clubs" chain of 802.11 hotspots in 3,000 different locations. It hopes to bring this number up to 30,000 locations before the end of the year (for comparison: recall that Cometa hopes to have a network of 20,000 hot spots in the United States by the end of 2004). The origins of the network are in the gaming machine business -- Inspired is making most of its money from pay-to-play games on mobile phones. Inspired's collaborator in the venture is Leisure Link, which operates gambling and video game machines in pubs, sports centers, and social clubs. If the two companies succeed, they will create the U.K.'s largest network of wireless Internet access points. Luke Alvarez, Inspired founder and CEO, said the company would reveal its price structure next Monday. The company's ambition, he said, is "To be an open backbone, such that any number of operators -- WISPS -- can use our locations."

4. 802.11b NICs' prices keep falling
802.11 network interface cards (NICs) are heading toward a major price drop in the second half of this year, reaching near $10 from the current $16 to $17, as new players aggressively try to secure their position in the lucrative, but already saturated market. 

Source - Several, including TechWeb, 802.11planet and Fierce 80211newsletter

MobileInfo Comments and Advisory: We see Cometa-IPass relationship to be significant. Both are important players with clout. Across the Atlantic (the pond, as the British would call it), leisure Link announces a more ambitious plan to have 30,000 hot spots in a year. Remember, growing WiFi hotspots is like growing mushrooms. But you do need BCC (Billing and customer Care) infrastructure. Cometa and Toshiba can do that. On the consumer side, prices of wireless NICs are falling like Ethernet cards did several years ago. Notebooks have WiFi as a standard feature now. Next target area - PDAs. For smart phones, we would let Bluetooth provide the connectivity.

As you will observe, WiFi train is gaining speed. Many small players have proven the concept and large players (Cometa with IBM behind the company) have moved in. The wireless providers have reluctantly joined the fray but more with "me-to" approach, saying to customers you really need wide area 2.5G/3G solutions. Public hotspot market will require a lot of mass deployment and will take at least two to three years to reach a level where we can say that you can locate one within a block in large metropolitan areas. On the enterprise side too, security problems are getting solved. We see a bright side to the hybrid network story (Wireless LAN and WWAN integration) we started promoting in mid 2001with our editorial.

 Note: This news release may contain forward-looking statements within the meaning of section 27A of the Securities Act of 1933 and section 21E of Securities Exchange act of 1934 in USA. Similar provisions exist in other countries. There is no assurance that the stipulated plans of vendors will be implemented. MobileInfo does not warrant the authenticity of the information. Readers should take appropriate caution in developing plans utilizing these products, services and technology architectures.  All trademarks used in this summary are the property of their respective owners.

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