Carrier WiFi

Vodafone Preps for WLAN Move

Wireless behemoth Vodafone Group plc (NYSE: VOD) is gearing up for an assault on the global public hotspot market in an attempt to play catchup with rival cellular carriers.

The carrier has, until now, remained a bit-part player in the public wireless LAN space, with a deal to equip Lufthansa's airport lounges the only evidence of a foray into this burgeoning market.

Rival carriers have meanwhile embarked on a major hotspot rollout spree in an effort to capture early adopters (see FT Outlines WLAN Plans, Swisscom Buys a Bevy of PWLAN, Telecom Italia Untangles WLAN).

Vodafone isn’t revealing too much at this stage; but John Earl, senior group communications manager, says the company is preparing for a significant push within the next twelve months. “Wireless LAN is an important part of our plan globally,” he tells Unstrung. “We will be introducing a number of services in the next year, and it will play a more and more important role for us as a company.”

Earl does say that the carrier is unlikely to embark upon a Swisscom Eurospot-style acquisition spree of hotspot owners, preferring instead to work with existing players. “Our primary role will be to sign up the requisite service agreements with hotspot providers,” he says. “I don’t think you’ll find Vodafone acquiring hotspot providers outright.”

Analysts expect the carrier to launch a step-by-step global rollout, initially targeting the U.K. and Germany, following its earlier deal with the German airline. “It is virtually impossible to launch global hotspot services at the same time,” says Bena Roberts, wireless research analyst at Current Analysis. “Vodafone is a huge player and would have problems with the logistics of a Big Bang approach.”

Who doesn't?

— Justin Springham, Senior Editor, Europe, Unstrung

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