O2 to roll out public WLANs


22 Nov 2002

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Hot on the heels of internal trials, mobile telecommunications company (telco) O2 has announced the commercial availability of public wireless local area networks (WLANs) from January.

However, arch-rival Vodafone, following its own trials, has decided to hold back, convinced that a suitable business model for WLANs, or wireless hotspots has yet to be established.

O2’s service will be available in hotspots in public places such as hotels, conference centres and train stations from late January. The company O2 has signed a number of agreements with major companies, including Jurys Doyle Hotel Group, Bewleys Hotel Group, Lynch Hotel Group and CIE.

According to the company, there is an established business model in place at each of the sites where a hotspot has been installed. O2 is also planning to work with experienced technology partners to offer integrated WLAN solutions into the corporate sector.

However, rival mobile telco Vodafone Ireland has decided to wait and see if a suitable business model yet exists for public WLANs. Vodafone Ireland’s chief technology officer, Fergal Kelly said: “We have been trialling public WLAN internally in Ireland and in a number of Vodafone Group Operator companies (Italy, Germany and UK). However, we believe that the business model for public WLAN has yet to be established. We view it as a complementary technology to mobile services and will continue to assess its viability and value.”

Tony Dempsey, WLAN programme manager at O2, believes that his company has found a business model that will provide it with a revenue stream for the future. “We’ve been trialling it for the past four months and are happy with the results. The model has worked well with our five partners [mentioned above]. We’ve assessed a number of different payment options and the principal one will be a voucher system whereby anyone who has a WLAN-enabled laptop can purchase a voucher over the counter that will come with a serial number that they can use to enter the local network for anything from one hour to 24 hours,” he said.

Dempsey also revealed that the company is working with Nokia to provide the infrastructure at the locations and that IBM is providing the integration and deploying the hardware.

He concluded by saying that the company is looking to partner with other public locations to roll out the public WLANs.

The announcement by O2 follows news that Eircom has commenced public WLAN trials with The O’Callaghan Hotel Group, The Red Cow Moran Hotel, The Silver Springs Moran Hotel in Cork and Citywest Hotel in Dublin with a view to launching the service in the first quarter of 2003.

By John Kennedy