O2 invests €1.9m on Wi-Fi rollout


3 Feb 2003

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Mobile telecommunications company (telco) O2 has revealed that its initial rollout of a wireless local area network (WLAN) infrastructure has cost the company €1.9m, of which €111,000 came from the Government.

As well as this, O2 has revealed that it is in discussions with overseas telcos to establish roaming agreements for customers of the service.

O2’s WLAN service went live over the weekend at 12 locations in Dublin, Limerick, Galway and Cork.

The Dublin locations inlcude include Heuston Station, The Burlington Hotel, The Westbury, Bewley’s Hotels at Newlands Cross and Ballsbridge, Jury’s Hotel, Towers Hotels, Shelbourne Hotel and The Hilton. Other sites inlcude the Westwood Hotel in Galway, the South Court Hotel in Limerick and Maryborough House Hotel in Cork.

The WLAN service, offering users up to 11Mb per second internet access in an area up to 100 square metres, will be available in two different pricing models, by voucher or through contract. Laptop or personal digital assistant (PDA) users wishing to get internet access at any time in one of the above locations can purchase a voucher at a designated point that can give them access in one hour or 24 hour formats.

Under the contract system, for O2 subscribers, a €10 monthly subscription would give the user approximately one hour of free access per month, with each session of 20 minutes thereafter costing €2 per session. For occasional contract users that haven’t registered as subscribers to the WLAN service, the charge is €3 per 20 minute session.

To coincide with the launch of its WLAN service, which follows a rigorous six-month trial period, O2 unveiled the Nokia D211 data card, which includes GPRS functionality and which will retail at €329.

However, most WLAN access cards can be acquired for less than €100 and will work with the various WLANs created by O2 and its partners. As well as this, Apple iBook users can enjoy instant WLAN access as most iBooks come with built-in AirPort technology for WLANs.

Users of WLAN services can browse the web, send email and security-conscious corporate users are recommended to access corporate applications such as online databases through virtual private networks (VPNs) as many of the security kinks in WLANs are far from being ironed out.

O2 confirmed that the Irish market is being used as a testbed for its rollout of WLAN in the UK and elsewhere in the world and has partnered with Wavelink Solutions Group to promote WLAN usage in various venues throughout the country.

As well as this, the company has partnered with Ye@h Internet, which will develop its own WLAN network offering, which it secures to O2 Ireland and establishes roaming agreements with the company.

The infrastructure that O2 has rolled out in Dublin, Cork, Galway and Limerick came about through a partnership agreement with Nokia Networks, with IBM Global Services acting as systems integrator.

At the launch of the new WLAN services was the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, Dermot Ahern TD, who alluded to a growing preference within his department for wireless broadband access to regional locations over fixed broadband technologies, which have proven expensive and cumbersome to implement.

O2 spokesman Tony Dempsey told siliconrepublic.com that the company is evaluating newer WLAN standards for future rollouts, than the existing 802.11b standard that dominates the present rollout.

He added that the installations with the various hotels are exclusive deals with a commercial partnership on each site. “This is very much a strategic move. We also have plans to establish partnerships with other suppliers locally and in other countries to allow WLAN users to roam in other locations. Ireland is very much the testbed for the planned WLAN rollout in the UK, as the regulatory environment for WLAN is more relaxed,” he said.

In an interesting aside, Dempsey indicated that there is significant interest amongst all WLAN providers to win agreement with Aer Rianta to install WLANs at key airports throughout Ireland. “At present this is expected to go out to tender shortly,” he said.

By John Kennedy