Eircom to trial public wireless hotspots

20 Nov 2002

Eircom is to begin trialling public wireless local area networks (WLANs) at a variety of public locations, including five major hotels, with a view to launching public wireless hotspot services throughout the country, as well as bundling WLANs into DSL offerings for the home early next year.

The O’Callaghan Hotel Group, The Red Cow Moran Hotel, The Silver Springs Moran Hotel in Cork and CityWest Hotel in Dublin are to be the first hotels in Ireland to introduce public wireless hotspots for business travellers wishing to log into the internet or their corporate virtual private networks (VPNs).

WLANs are enjoying widespread popularity amongst large companies, SMEs and small home offices right now in Ireland, for clear reasons. The wireless LAN standard, known as 802.11b or the more acceptable moniker wi-fi, allows individuals to use devices like laptops and PDAs to enjoy speeds of up to 11MB per second within a 500 sq foot radius, using a wireless LAN base station that costs around €500 and network cards that cost less than €50.

Eircom is at the forefront of local telecommunications companies (telcos) aiming to establish public wireless hotspots at a variety of public locations, with the aim of developing a business model in partnership with hotels, airports and other public venues that see value in allowing individuals to surf the web on their premises.

Esat BT is also understood to be preparing public wireless hotspot services for trialling in the coming months, a spokesman for the company told siliconrepublic.com.

Among the business models being mooted by Eircom is a model of prepaid scratch cards that individuals with WLAN-enabled laptops or PDAs can buy and get a once-off username and password that gives them 11MB-speed internet access on the spot.

According to Eircom’s Peter O’Shaughnessey, who is managing the trial of public hotspots at several locations throughout the country, the scratch cards will be just one model that will evolve to becoming a fully-fledged subscription service for individuals and businesses. The plan after that is to establish roaming agreements with overseas telcos like Telia and Deutsche Telekom, whereby Irish business travellers who subscribe to Eircom’s service can access the service on any of their public hotspots throughout Europe, and eventually the world.

The WLAN revolution is only in its infancy; more laptops and bundled software now support WLAN as PC manufacturers integrate WLANs with their notebook computers as the cost of WLAN equipment comes down. According to the international data corporation, Western European WLAN shipments are expected to grow from US$230 million in 2000 to approximately US$806 million in 2005. Microsoft sees WLAN as an important element of its .NET strategy and is seeking to position its software as the dominant standard for WLAN access. Developments are underway that will increase WLAN speeds from 11MB per second up to 54MB per second.

According to research carried out by DIT and Enigma, some 378 wireless hotspots are currently active in Dublin today, with usage expected to soar over the coming year.

Eircom is also promoting the establishment of WLANs to connect to the internet at home using DSL lines as backhaul and fitting a WLAN mini base-station in the house, allowing the user to connect to the net without wires from any location in his or her house. According to Eircom, the company is in the process of evaluating suitable vendors to bundle a wireless LAN service with DSL sales and expects to have an offering in place by for the first quarter of 2003.

O’Shaughnessey added that following successful conclusion of the public WLAN trials at these hotels and other locations, the company envisages formally launching a public WLAN hotspot service by April, 2003.

By John Kennedy