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Ubiquitous bed & broadband? Not quite

Dec 08, 20033 mins
Cellular NetworksNetwork SecurityWi-Fi

* Broadband status for road warriors: "intermittent"

Business demand for public Wi-Fi services seems solid. Fuzzier are the business models for delivering these services. Inconsistency among services, which is the state of hot spots today, can lead to lower on-the-road productivity and higher costs for users.

Still, growth projections for Wi-Fi hot spots are bullish. The Radicati Group estimates that the number of public locations offering Wi-Fi-based Internet access worldwide will grow from 71,500 this year to 90,805 in 2004, and then surge to 477,352 by 2007. And the research firm expects the number of 802.11 wanderers to sprout from 42 million worldwide today to 609 million in 2007.

But some things will have to come together for these predictions to come true.  With a few exceptions, pricing varies widely – from free to $25 a day in my experience – as does how you get access.

For me, the Next-Generation Networks show in Boston in early November was a dream. STSN, a wireless ISP, provided Wi-Fi access for all NGN participants from the meeting rooms, speaker room, press room and so forth – making my ability to report on the show’s events much more efficient. In guest rooms, the Marriott Boston Copley Plaza provided a bag of Internet cables hanging in the closet for a shared Ethernet connection costing about 10 bucks a day.

Then came Comdex. My laptop found no available access points. I heard through the grapevine that you could schlep somewhere across the Las Vegas Convention Center and pay $25 for a day’s connection or $5 per hour. No thanks. Being up to date with business offers from Zimbabwean dictators isn’t worth that price. There were also no broadband options in my room in the Vegas Hilton – wireless or otherwise. I learned that a room with broadband access is something you have to request ahead of time – like a nonsmoking room (though these are “requests” only, with no guarantees).

It will be awhile before we can take ubiquitous broadband for granted. Wirelessly-speaking, it might be best to investigate plans from the likes of Boingo, Wayport and others with large aggregate footprints (GRIC, iPass and even traditional telecom carrier Infonet are also good candidates, particularly for users who travel internationally).  This keeps the price down because you buy in volume. Try to pick the footprint best able to accommodate the places where the largest number of traveling users go.

And maybe the IT department should coordinate with the corporate travel agent so that hotels in the footprint are your organization’s top-priority locations for computer-toting users.