EC Fires Up Hotspots
The move is a further step in the EC’s ambition to create what it calls an "information society" -- one that should enable a host of new players to enter the market, including incumbent operators currently struggling to launch 3G services
“The technology will give European citizens ready access,” says Erkki Liikanen, European Commissioner for Enterprise and Information Society, in a statement.
Back in September, the EC hosted a workshop dedicated to dissecting the 3G spectrum awards debacle (see Europe's Steep Learning Curve). Is this the case of the EC trying to make up for its 3G sins? The analyst community certainly thinks so.
“By comparison with 3G, Wireless LAN is an extremely proven technology, and it isn’t surprising that the EC sees it as a useful tool to build this information society,” says Richard Dineen, research director for wireless at Ovum Ltd. “The EC has accepted it cannot block the path of this technology. The last thing it wants to do is put unnecessary obstacles in the way to its success.”
Despite the EC’s positive efforts, Dineen reckons certain mobile operators, having already invested billions of dollars in license auctions and initial 3G rollouts, might see the campaign as the promotion of competing technology. “Mobile operators may feel hard done by,” says the Ovum man. “They have had to provide services within fairly strict timetables and may feel that this is not exactly even-handed, particularly when they are coming under such strict regulatory scrutiny.”
But the EC’s push is certainly better news for Europe’s early Wireless LAN players. Swisscom AG (NYSE: SCM), still fresh from a double-whammy acquisition earlier this month (see Swisscom Buys a Bevy of PWLAN), welcomed the move. “Swisscom Eurospot fully supports the view of the European Commission. This is confirmation of our approach to the market,” says company spokeswoman Pia Colombo. “It is very good news for everyone in the WLAN sector.”
The initiative represents the first of a two-part strategy to promote hotspot rollout in Europe. The second phase will attempt to overcome radio spectrum issues with which the industry is currently entangled. According to the EC, plans to push the launch of systems in the 5GHz band will be put into action following the World Radiocommunication Conference 2003 in June.
Europe is the second continent this week to actively promote takeup of public Wireless LAN, following news from Asia that five of its leading carriers are opening up their networks to enable hotspot roaming across the region (see Asia Opens Up to WLAN).
— Justin Springham, Senior Editor, Europe, Unstrung