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Carrier WiFi

Toshiba Hotspots Go Cold

Toshiba America Information System is getting out of the public access wireless LAN business and hopes to cede the "hundreds" of hotspots it has installed in the field to startup Cometa Networks Inc.

Toshiba launched hotspot hardware and its SurfHere rollout program in the U.S. just over a year ago. The firm said at the time that it planned to have 10,000 hotspots in place by the end of 2003.

Toshiba has now put an end to that rollout. "We will not be installing any more hotspots," says Chris Harrington, VP of business development and strategy at Toshiba America.

In fact, Harrington says that Toshiba only wanted to kickstart the hotspot sector by acting as a "catalyst" and "stimulant" with its rollout and now intends to develop special public access features for its wireless LAN-equipped laptops. "When you're a lawnmover manufacturer you want to make sure there's grass," he says.

Harrington denies that the Toshiba's move out of the hotspot business was motivated by the company's failure to win a deal to roll out 6,000 hotspots in McDonald's restaurants. That contract was instead secured last week by Wayport Inc. (see Wayport Macs Up).

Harrington says that Toshiba has been talking to Cometa for a while. "Discussions for a strategic alliance like this don't get done in 24 hours; that [McDonald's] announcement was very recent."

Toshiba intends to transfer its hotspot network to Cometa -- another failed bidder on the McDonald's contract -- but says the hotspots could potentially be transferred to other networks if the individual owners of the sites where the WiFi access points are installed decide they prefer an alternative provider.

Such alternatives are thinning out both in the U.S. and Europe. Much hyped U.K. provider MyZones Ltd. admitted defeat earlier this month, while equipment providers look for new ways to make the public access model work (see MyZones Zones Out and Hotspots: Mixed Nuts?). — Dan Jones, Site Editor, Unstrung

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