Wi-fidelity as smartphones tie users closer to web experience

27 Aug 2009

Ireland’s oldest Wi-Fi hotspot provider Bitbuzz is six years old next week, and has more than 5,000 access points in 201 locations. Shane Deasy is managing director

WHAT changes in recent months have defined the usage of Wi-Fi in Ireland?

In the boom days, the vast amount of increase in usage was usually taking place in four- and five-star hotels, but over the past 12 months we’ve seen a higher increase in usage in three-star hotels like Travelodge, Holiday Inn and D4 Hotels.

When it comes to coffee shops and bars, the growth in use of devices like the iPhone and Nokia N97 is becoming more apparent, bringing in different usage patterns.

How do smartphone users typically make use of Wi-Fi hotspots?

Firstly, many of the owners of devices like the iPhone realise that Wi-Fi is faster and cheaper than 3G, and in many cases the availability of a Wi-Fi hotspot helps them decide where they want to go for a coffee or a beer.

The arrival of devices like netbooks is also helping to change usage patterns and students and teenagers are entering the mix, whereas in the past it would have been the nomadic business professional.

To keep up with changing usage patterns, we recently developed a free application for the Apple Apps Store that allows iPhone users to locate their nearest Bitbuzz hotspot.

In terms of expanding your network, is it expensive to roll out hotspots?

It costs a lot more than you would think. When we began, people just needed a broadband connection and we would do the rest, but today – for quality purposes– it is better to manage the broadband and the hotspot.

We are in over 80 hotels for example, but each one would require 80 or 90 access points.

We are actually now our own broadband bitstream providers and we see that as the way forward. This will eventually see us offer businesses further broadband services.

Where is the Wi-Fi market in Ireland heading and do you see 3G broadband and new services like WiMax as potential threats?

We have a good working relationship with providers like O2 and we realise that people are happy to pay for Wi-Fi indirectly through subscriptions they have with operators.

Our business has actually grown more and more since 3G dongles came out. We don’t view 3G as a competing technology. It is more of an add-on than a DSL replacement.

People are more clued in about how Wi-Fi works and because of applications like Twitter and Facebook they want it more and more when they are out and about.

Is WiMax a threat? It’s still early days and hasn’t been technically proven. We looked at WiMax and bitstream DSL and decided on bitstream. We need 50 hotspots per hotel, so can one WiMax unit half a kilometre away do the job? I don’t think so.

What are your future plans for Bitbuzz?

We are looking at ways of expanding on our capabilities, thanks to our track record with broadband and because of the maturing of people’s usage of Wi-Fi at home and on the move.

We are currently working with some of the tourist bodies to ensure that people who come to Ireland are better informed about what hotels have Wi-Fi access.

By John Kennedy

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years