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WLAN hot spots start getting rapped

Jun 24, 20032 mins

* Industry observers are starting to point to holes in wireless LAN hot spots

Hype follows a kind of sine wave. First you have everyone and their brother praising a technology to the skies, and it is during this phase that you find out the technology is perfect for all types of applications large and small, especially yours. Then people suddenly plunge into negativity, and that same technology is universally reviled as useless – or worse, as a security risk.

If a technology survives the hype and the subsequent anti-hype, it usually reaches a kind of equilibrium where people simply use it to the extent that it is useful to solve a particular problem.

Wireless LAN hot spots have officially started the negativity plunge.

Hot spots are those public areas where WLAN access to the Internet is made available. They have been touted for their high speeds and theoretical ease of use – just turn on your WLAN-enabled laptop and get online. Public areas from airports to coffee shops are being highlighted as appropriate venues for these hot spots.

At last week’s CeBit conference, one session touched on these hot spots. The pricing and hosting models are still being worked out, said David Heit, senior product manager of Research in Motion, purveyors of the popular BlackBerry wireless devices.

The biggest drawback of using these hot spots is the question of service, he said.

“Who do you call if it doesn’t work?” he asked. That isn’t always clear – and if it takes too long to figure out any connection issues, how useful is it?

Also, what Research in Motion plays up is the fact that its devices have very long battery life. Heit pointed out that WLANs can have “too much data interplay,” which can sap power from the battery.

Another consideration is coverage, said Jay Best, president of Best Mobile Computing. To really get coverage widespread, a lot of infrastructure needs to be in place.

Separately, IDC last week characterized the building of hot spots to a “gold rush” – a phrase that brings back memories of the early days of the dot-com era:

IDC: Wi-Fi hype contrasts with reality