Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Wi-Fi - death of the hot spot?

Ericsson predicts demise for Wi-Fi hot spots

As mobile broadband takes off, Wi-Fi hot spots will become as irrelevant as telephone booths, LM Ericsson Telephone Co. Chief Marketing Officer Johan Bergendahl said Monday.

Mobile broadband is growing faster than mobile or fixed telephony ever did, Bergendahl said.

"In Austria, they are saying that mobile broadband will pass fixed broadband this year. It's already growing faster, and in Sweden, the most popular phone is a USB modem," said Bergendahl, who was the keynote speaker at the European Computer Audit, Control and Security Conference in Stockholm.

As more people start using mobile broadband, hot spots will no longer be needed. "Hot spots at places like Starbucks are becoming the telephone boxes of the broadband era," said Bergendahl.

A couple of factors will accelerate the move to mobile broadband. In countries such as Austria, Denmark and Sweden, the average price for a mobile broadband subscription is only €20 ($31 U.S.) per month, Bergendahl said.

Also, support for high-speed packet access (HSPA), favored by Ericsson, is being built into more and more laptops. Ericsson recently signed a deal to put HSPA technology in some Lenovo Group Ltd. notebooks.

"In a few years, [HSPA] will be as common as Wi-Fi is today," Bergendahl said.

But challenges still remain. Coverage, availability and price -- especially when someone is roaming on other networks -- are all key factors for success.

"Industry will have to solve the international roaming issue," Bergendahl said. "Carriers need to work together. It can be as simple as paying €10 per day when you are abroad."

Not knowing how high the bill will be after a business trip is not acceptable for professional users, according to Bergendahl.

Coverage will also have to improve. In the room where Bergendahl spoke, there was no 3G (third-generation) coverage. However, operators are looking at ways to provide better signal coverage, particularly indoors and in rural areas.

But Bergendahl said he also suspects a conspiracy.

"They would never admit it, but I think hotels are stopping the radio signals," he said. "They see data access as a business opportunity."

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