Wi-Fi firm plans 150 hotspots around Ireland

6 Jun 2003

A new start-up firm is to launch a new network of 10 wireless local area networks (WLANs) in pubs and hotels around Dublin and Cork, and plans to grow this number to 150 wireless hotspots within two years.

The Bitbuzz service will allow anyone with a wireless enabled device such as a laptop computer or a personal digital assistant (PDA) to access the internet whilst visiting a hotspot location. Bitbuzz plans to launch its service in July with 10 locations.

Most of these locations will be in Dublin, including popular venues such as The Globe Bar & Cafe, The Front Lounge, The Mespil Hotel and the The Schoolhouse Bar. In Cork, Bitbuzz will offer service in Scotts Bar in Oliver Plunkett Street, The Bodega in Cornmarket Street and Barry’s Bar in Douglas. It is understood that further sites in both cities will be revealed in July.

After launch, Bitbuzz plans to increase the size of its network dramatically, to 50 by the end of this year and 150 within two years, becoming the largest Wi-Fi network in Ireland before the end of this year, with locations in major centres throughout the country.

According to Shane Deasy, founder of Bitbuzz: “We are building a stand alone network and want to be the leading public wireless internet access vendor in the country. We are planning to forge relationships with Esat BT, Eircom and O2 to allow their existing and future Wi-Fi subscribers to use the service. We want to make it as simple as possible for people to use Wi-Fi in Ireland.”

Deasy says that the plan is to enable telcos’ customers to roam onto its network of Wi-Fi hotspots or buy coupons at each location according to each users’ Wi-Fi usage habits. “The network is currently up and running in these 10 locations and is free to use at present. It will remain free-for-use for around four-to-five weeks after launch on 10 July and then we will begin to price the service competitively”, he says.

Deasy adds that the firm is looking beyond simple internet access to more sophisticated Wi-Fi applications for hotels, bars and restaurants. “We are currently sourcing various equipment vendors to provide us with wireless handheld integrated point-of-sale and credit card payment devices that will allow a customer to pay for their meal using the forthcoming smartchip-based credit cards at their table rather than at a counter.

“We are also planning to provide IP-based video cameras for security applications using Wi-fi technology. In this way, over a virtual private network (VPN) footage can go directly to a hard disk in a secure, remote location, rather than a video recorder and a stack of tapes that could be compromised, lost or stolen”, Deasy explains.

Bitbuzz is being spawned from Deasy’s network infrastructure company Wavelink and will be funded by what he describes as a “friends and family round.”

“We intend to be the biggest Wi-Fi provider in Ireland by Christmas. Our aim is to stimulate the market for Wi-Fi, and make it easy for people to use the technology,” Deasy concludes.

In related news, a recent report from the industry analyst Ovum warned that ‘paid-for’ Wi-Fi services may eventually lose out to a growing community of locations offering free access to wireless local area networks (WLANs) as a ‘value-add’ service to their customers.

However, Ovum indicates a growing number of facilities such as bars and coffee shops across Europe and the US are beginning to provide free broadband access over a WLAN as a ‘value add’ with the bonus that they can sell more coffee, beer or other services.

Ovum senior analyst Richard Dineen says: “For hotspots in bars or cafés, for example, the idea being that offering wireless internet services will encourage your customers to linger a little longer and order another beer or caramel frappuccino.

“There is a number of managed service providers that are targeting products and services specifically at this value-added PWLAN [public wireless local area network] segment. Some have even modelled opex (operational spend) in their brochures in language the hotspot owners can easily understand: “You can pay back your wireless LAN running costs by selling an extra three beers per day – that kind of thing,” he adds.

Such talk, Dineen says, has prompted fears amongst the ‘paid-for’ lobby that value-add public WLANs as well as community-based free networks will gradually become so pervasive and of sufficiently high quality that they will erode the coverage and service level benefits associated with paid-for services. “Ultimately, in this scenario, wireless LAN would become like air conditioning: lots of places have it, some places might occasionally gain additional custom because of it, but no one charges extra for it,” Dineen says.

By John Kennedy