Carrier WiFi

BT's Blind Ambition?

British Telecommunications plc (BT)'s (NYSE: BTY; London: BTA) surprise decision to speed up its rollout of 4,000 hotspots in the U.K. by a year, through a do-it-yourself (DIY) offering for small businesses, has raised concern over the company’s strategy for public wireless LAN deployment (see BT Strengthens Hotspot Rollout).

Some analysts wonder if the crusty old incumbent is focusing too much on rolling out as many hotspots as possible, rather than improving access in key locations and ensuring that users get a good service.

As part of its plan to promote wireless LAN to small businesses such as fitness clubs, bookshops, and golf courses, the company's BT Retail subsidiary has joined forces with Toshiba Corp. to develop an off-the-shelf wireless LAN package, known as "Hotspot in a Box." Toshiba will manufacture the hotspot technology and BT will act as the ISP. Roaming agreements between the two companies are designed to link up the BT Openzone network with Toshiba’s global hotspots.

According to BT Retail spokesman Jonathan Carter, the do-it-yourself box will be available by November 2003 and will cost from £300 (US$492). Carter reveals that BT struggled to come up with a catchy name for the package, stating that at one point it was to be called a "Hotbox" until the business decided this had “pornographic connotations.” [Ed. note: "Bum-Burglar" was killed for similar reasons.]

The hotspot package initiative, combined with the company’s involvement with Inspired Broadcast Networks' Cloud project -- to be officially launched tomorrow (see Cloud Looms Over UK Hotspots) -- will form the crux of chief executive Pierre Danon’s ambitious plan. “The hotspot package and the Cloud network will help us achieve 400 hotspots by this summer and 4,000 by next year,” Carter asserts.

Despite the bold claims, Ovum Ltd.’s research director Richard Dineen believes that BT Retail could be accused of losing sight of its priorities.

“Why, when we have such an underdeveloped market for good locations and services, are people tinkering away on the fringes?” he asks. “These guys can sign up all the cafés they want, but they should be focusing on establishing uniform quality of services, interoperability issues of payment settlement and roaming, and improving access at key venues such as hotels, airports, and conference centers.”

BT’s Carter states that the company’s decision to target small hotspot locations is simply a natural progression of its wireless LAN business model. “It is emulating our previous partnerships with Welcome Break, British Airport Authorities, and Hilton Hotels, but on a smaller scale,” he explains. “We are giving small independent businesses the opportunity to increase their own revenue by rolling out this technology.”

Meanwhile Frost & Sullivan analyst Michael Wall agrees that the hotspot package will bolster wireless LAN usage and ADSL subscriptions for BT Retail, but is also wary of potential obstacles to success. “The key issue will be how many big deals they can negotiate,” he notes. “They have to link up chains of businesses -- it is no good negotiating on an individual location level.”

However, this DIY approach may -- at least -- have a cost benefit for BT, even if it means that most of the hotspots end up being deployed in obscure locations, like the Isle of Man.

The likely amounts that BT is spending on wireless LAN deployment are in stark contrast to its former subsidiary mmO2 plc’s 3G splurge. The cellular business is expected to write off £6 billion ($9.8 billion) in value on its European third-generation interests when it reports its full-year results on Wednesday.

— Justin Springham, Senior Editor, Europe, Unstrung

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IPobserver 12/5/2012 | 12:02:08 AM
re: BT's Blind Ambition? Hotspots are bit like buses, taxis, cash machines or policemenGǪ theyGÇÖre never around when you need one.

So DIY hotspots seem like a good idea to me. The more the merrier!

I think the Ovum guy is wrong, quality of service, billing, roaming and all that stuff are important, but most people just want to get their email and donGÇÖt really give a hoot about all this techno babble.

Put it this way, IGÇÖd rather be able to get email, than know the provider had a fancy billing system.
mobileIP 12/5/2012 | 12:02:06 AM
re: BT's Blind Ambition? I've been reading up on Flarion, Arraycom and IPWireless and the technology from all of these companies seems like the ideal solution to the hotspot issue.

My question is if this stuff is so good and if it works then why aren't people buying or deploying it? There seems to be loads of talk about un-named operator interest from these vendors but no names. If this stuff is so good and 3G is so bad why aren't they talking about it? How big of a deal is it for an operator to use this stuff?
DavidSJames 12/5/2012 | 12:02:04 AM
re: BT's Blind Ambition? Each of the three systems are quite a bit different one to another. But you are correct in thrust of first comment !

Just watch this space re. rest.

If you have special interest please contact me on [email protected]
joset01 12/5/2012 | 12:02:01 AM
re: BT's Blind Ambition? I suspect its more of a cost issue. There's been plenty of carrier trails of all of these sort of systems, even some ltd rollouts. I know these systems are cheaper than 3G systems, but its even cheaper to rollout a few access points, find out what kind of services customers might actually be willing to pay for, and then mull a wider rollout.

Of course, 802.11b is also going to be fairly ubiquitous in laptops within a couple of years.

Anyway, that's one way to look at it.

DJ Unstrung
spc_myles_telos 12/5/2012 | 12:01:56 AM
re: BT's Blind Ambition? so this B-RAS stuff looks like a good place to start actually...


(just catching up on my unstrung reading! :)
spc_myles_telos 12/5/2012 | 12:01:56 AM
re: BT's Blind Ambition? Gabriel, you'd never make it as an analyst, obviously.

Wi-Fi will be a great convenience technology, show up at any coffee shop and pop off some emails, you'll have your clique of business travellers who will pay for the comfort of knowing that ahead of time where they can go to get access... but the mass market will be treating it as convenience, real estate agents will go to the local coffee shop and buy donuts while popping off emails.

Not sure what the European methodology would be. If operators were smart, they would be promoting the access networks, promoting cable/adsl, expanding that as the WiFi backend, and then tiering big major sites into managed metro access services later on if the need be... make your money there, who cares about the wifi part...

IPobserver 12/5/2012 | 12:01:54 AM
re: BT's Blind Ambition? Myles,

I don't understand your point. WhatGÇÖs wrong with the great unwashed treating public access WiFi as a convenience?

ThatGÇÖs what it should be GÇô a service for the masses, not just for a clique of business travellers who stay at the Hilton.
calistoga 12/5/2012 | 12:01:51 AM
re: BT's Blind Ambition? Check out www.somanetworks.com
spc_rayella 12/5/2012 | 12:01:37 AM
re: BT's Blind Ambition? Here's an example that I am sure many hotspot users might recognize. I was at the Telemanagement Show (OSS event) this week in Nice, France, and there was a wireless Internet cafe (minus the cafe, of course...)

There was never a problem getting a strong signal to the access point at any time -- very often between 6Mbps and 11Mbps. However, for much of the day the actual network availability was either non-existant or slower than a dial-up connection. These access points were connected to the show fixed LAN, and sharing the bandwidth with the exhibitors and presentation rooms.

And don't even get me started on power points...

The 802.11 tech works absolutely fine, but like evything else it's just a small part of the equation.

Boardwatch Ray (http://www.boardwatch.com)
mobileIP 12/5/2012 | 12:01:33 AM
re: BT's Blind Ambition? Thanks David,

What do you find as being the major stumbling blocks to adoption of your kit by operators? What are the tough questions which they ask you and by extension what do you think that the problems they face are?

I'm just trying to get an understanding of why technologies which are so superior aren't being widely adopted or even talked about by operators....
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