Carrier WiFi

Intel Flies Euro Centrino Flag

Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC) furthered its European Centrino marketing blitz today with the opening of the Mobile Technology Zone at London’s Heathrow airport, an initiative it hopes will help push the idea of wireless computing to a still relatively skeptical consumer market (see Intel Hotspots Heathrow).

The move is the company’s clearest attempt yet to make the Centrino brand as synonymous with wireless LAN in the public's eye as its Pentium brand is with desktop processors (see Centrino: Building the Brand). Intel is doing deals with the owners of more than 10,000 hotspots worldwide to ensure that they are compatible with Centrino technology. According to David Mitchell, Intel's head of brand marketing for U.K. and Ireland, 2,000 of these will be implemented in the U.K. alone by the end of this year.

“We are working with a whole range of service providers to make sure they are verifying their hotspots with Centrino mobile technology,” he states. “France, Germany, Scandinavia, Spain, and the U.K. are our core target regions at present; and airports, motorway services, cafes, and pubs make up the majority of our hotspot venues.” So far, the chipmaker has announced European partnerships with the likes of T-Mobile International AG, Swisscom AG (NYSE: SCM), BT Openzone, and Netario Wireless.

The temporary zone at Heathrow sits inside BT Openzone’s network hotspot within the airport terminal, offering free email and Internet services to travelers until the end of May. A similar zone is in place at Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris, with a third planned for launch in Frankfurt next month.

“Centrino is a lifestyle product and we need to be able to demonstrate it to the public,” chirps Mitchell.

Analysts are in agreement with Intel’s need to take wireless LAN directly to the consumer market. “They are doing everyone else a massive favor,” comments Richard Dineen, research director for wireless at Ovum Ltd. “This is about market building rather than brand building. If wireless LAN is to be as pervasive as the vendors would like, they need to spend dollars on media, above and beyond normal advertising space, with stunts and demos such as this. People have got their heads around mobile phone technology but WiFi is still new.”

The company’s determination to make Centrino a success is clear, and it certainly isn’t being tight-fisted with the $300 million it has put aside for marketing and promotion (see Centrino: How Much?). The airport initiative also follows the $150 million the company plowed into innovative startups in this space earlier in the year (see Intel Invests in WLAN Startups).

The company is, however, lagging rivals Agere Systems (NYSE: AGR/A), Atheros Communications, and Broadcom Corp. (Nasdaq: BRCM), which are currently delivering chipsets that support the new wireless LAN standards 802.11a (54-Mbit/s over the 5GHz band) and 802.11g (54-Mbit/s over 2.4GHz). Intel’s Centrino product only supports the original b spec (11-Mbit/s over 2.4GHz), and the company’s European staff remain reluctant to specify when combined dualmode a and b chipsets will become available (see Intel's Radio Follies).

“There is no fixed date yet, although it will be later this year,” admits Mitchell. The marketing man attributes the delay to both technical and regulatory European issues: “For 802.11a functionality to be added to Centrino there need to be good levels of infrastructure out there, and that really isn’t the case as far as 802.11a is concerned at the moment.

“We are also still waiting for it to be regulated in a number of regions,” he adds, citing the European Commission’s push for member countries to relax regulatory rules on hotspot rollout (see EC Fires Up Hotspots) as a positive move for all parties involved in the industry.

— Justin Springham, Senior Editor, Europe, Unstrung

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