Unified billing proposed for Wi-Fi access

23 May 2003

LONDON – BT in the UK is planning to integrate the costs of accessing public wireless local area networks (WLANs) or Wi-Fi hotspots as part of its OpenZone product set, with likely implications for its Irish corporate marketplace. It is rumoured that Vodafone in the UK is also considering integrating wireless access costs into its corporate billing structure.

In Ireland at present, as in most western European countries where Wi-Fi hotspots are being deployed, users can access Wi-Fi networks in public areas such as hotels and certain train stations by buying special coupons or scratch cards that denote passwords and access times. So far, Eircom, O2 and Esat BT have gone down this route with numerous smaller operators launching their own product versions in places such as cafes and pubs. The majority of these latter services are being offered for free as a value-added service.

According to David Hughes, director of mobility at BT Retail, corporate customers of the company will be able to have Wi-Fi access without having to worry about acquiring tokens or scratch cards. “In our view it is very important that OpenZone is integrated onto a single bill. Corporate users of email and other technologies don’t want to be hampered by the complexities, they want to switch on and worry about costs later,” Hughes said, addressing a special roundtable discussion on public WLANs at the wireless LAN event in London.

Also present at the roundtable discussion was Peter Kelly, Nortel’s president of enterprise networks for Europe, Middle East and Africa, and responsible for directing strategy in one of the company’s largest markets. Pointing to research from Datamonitor, Kelly described security concerns as the “Achilles heel” for many network managers considering the adoption of WLAN technology.

However, Kelly said, “By paying better attention to virtual private network technologies and being increasingly vigilant about how WLANs are deployed in companies, companies are moving to the technology to enjoy increased flexible working and real cost savings and productivity. If done correctly, companies can enjoy real business topline and bottomline benefits. The problem with flexible working so far has been the fact that people need to have access to the same data and IT equipment they access in the office. If deployed correctly, with the right technology, that problem can be abated.”

A lot of the concerns company’s have about WLANs, he added, were down to people buying equipment more suited to home-based WLANs and connecting them to the Ethernet port at work without getting permission from their senior managers. “What happens is that major IT investments in security are bypassed. We will be bringing out a new sniffer technology later this year for IT managers to discover if there are Wi-Fi hotspots active in the workspace,” Kelly said.

By John Kennedy