UK OKs W£AN Plan
The U.K. telco announced in April that it was to build 400 WLAN hotspots around the U.K. by 2003 in places such as hotels, airports, and coffee shops (see BT Comes Out in Spots). Though it expressed the intention to charge for wireless access to data services, the U.K. government was still in its consultation period surrounding the proposed changes to the use of the spectrum.
From the end of July, the 2.4GHz channel -- which is used for a number of short-range devices such as remote control toys, baby listeners, and wireless alarms -- can carry pay services. "The restrictions in place now are very restrictive," government spokesman Marcus de Ville helpfully clarifies for Unstrung [ed. note: any relation to Cruella?]. "We looked at how the spectrum could be managed more effectively by lifting some of those restrictions, went through a consultation period, and decided that allowing commercial services would be good for the whole of the British economy."
The 2.4GHz channel will still be used for all existing private applications, and the DTI warned that operators wishing to operate commercial services must consider interference and security issues.
Although operators would not need a Wireless Telegraphy Act license for the paid services, they would still need a Telecommunications Act license, de Ville adds.
Handily for BT, it already has one of those. "We had hoped the government would announce this at this time," says Keith Trevorrow, program manager at BT Retail's business mobility unit. "We are delighted the government has given us… er, indeed, the whole industry, the go-ahead." Quite. At present BT is the only company to have announced public WLAN plans, and it has been cocky enough to start putting WLAN kit in place.
So what next? "We will make an announcement before the end of June about the name of our service, the tariffs, and where the initial sites will be," Trevorrow tells Unstrung. "Initially, the services would be available to existing corporate customers of BT only, and we would bill them with an annual charge based on the number of people within an organization that would be using the service."
He adds that if BT's "plans come to fruition," it might even offer individuals ad hoc WLAN access at the so-called hot spots from as early as July.
The annual charge to corporations will not include any equipment, however. Companies without an existing private WLAN would have to buy the 802.11b network interface cards and security client separately. "We will be selling those, but the customer does not have to buy them from us," says Trevorrow. "We have had strong interest from our corporate customers, especially those looking for a flexible working approach."
BT has obviously not worked hard enough on this flexible working philosophy. "Work is a place you go, not a thing you do," trumpets Trevorrow. No, hang on, that's not right. "Oh, er, wait. Work is a thing you do, not a place you go. That's right." Epigrammatically expressed, Keith.
But that's not the end of BT's wireless-extension-to-the-fixed-network plans. In September it will be trialing a combined Bluetooth/802.11b access service, though further details are not yet available.
What this will mean in terms of revenues for BT is too early to say, according to Trevorrow. It is also too early to say what effect such public WLAN plans will have on the strategies of the U.K.'s five 3G hopefuls (including former BT unit 02 Ltd.), which will rely on service uptake from the corporate community when they launch in the coming 24 months. Although 802.11b is short-range and not a direct technological competitor to WCDMA, the coexistence of WLAN access and 3G can only harm the levels of data traffic feeding into the mobile carriers' networks.
— Ray Le Maistre, European Editor, Unstrung