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Reality Bites WLAN

LONDON -- The WLAN Event -- The number of exhibitors has quadrupled and the visitors increased, but the mood at this year’s event is far removed from the hype of twelve months ago (see WLAN's Big Day Out).

The demise of U.K. startup MyZones Ltd. -- launched last year in a blaze of publicity -- isn’t the only sign of the industry’s recent reality check (see MyZones Zones Out).

The majority of the market’s big guns admit that serious work needs to be done if service providers are to generate revenues from hotspots.

“All providers would like usage to be greater,” comments Intel Corp.'s (Nasdaq: INTC) mobility marketing director Andrew Greenhaigh. “We need to generate knowledge that users are in a hotspot. Demand is low... You could argue it is disappointing, but it is where I would expect it to be right now.”

“We are not going to see massive increases this year,” warns Chris Clark, CEO of BT Openzone. “There has been too much focus on technologists developing platforms rather than on the sales and marketing... The technology is proven to the industry but not the users.”

“There has been too much focus on a network-centric approach rather than on customers,” concurs Dave Hagan, president and COO of Boingo Wireless Inc.

Despite the hotspot hindrances, at least the industry is making some headway in attempting to open up networks to a wider customer base. The launch of Intel-backed RoamPoint and the addition of three hotspot service providers to the WeRoam network indicates that the market is keen to overcome these early setbacks (see RoamPoint Links Hotspots and WeRoam Extends Roaming).

Elsewhere among the product pitches and marketing waffle, Unstrung managed to find a small set of news items worthy of note.

  • Gizmo of the Day Award goes to Cambridge, U.K., startup Reciva Ltd. for its wireless Internet radio. The device runs over 802.11b (11-Mbit/s over 2.4GHz) networks with rechargeable batteries included, allowing users to receive broadcasts from any radio station transmitting on the Internet. CEO Giles Hutchison says the five-man company is now “looking for a manufacturing partner” to commercially produce the radio.

  • Meanwhile, Last Mile Communications and Finnish vendor Radionet Oy are both battling for control of the, er, lucrative lamp-post market (see Last Mile Lights Up WiFi and Radionet Unveils Kit). The companies believe the street pillars make perfect hosts for wireless LAN access points -- Last Mile claims its planned installation program will see “upwards of 150,000 lamp posts fitted with very low power wireless data transmission systems,” while Radionet has already completed the rollout of 130 access points throughout Helsinki. “We are now looking at projects in the U.K. and the Netherlands,” says sales manager Jyrki Ahvonen.

    Full marks for originality, folks.

    — Justin Springham, Senior Editor, Europe, Unstrung

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