September 13, 2004, 12:57 PM —
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Analyst: Craig Mathias, Farpoint Group
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Takeaway: Public wireless LANs are going to be huge, driven on the demand side by ubiquitous WLAN devices and on the supply side by cellular operators that see an opportunity to increase their service range at minimal cost.
I'm Craig Mathias, a Principal with the advisory firm Farpoint Group, with an analyst briefing on one of the most exciting topics in wireless today - public wireless LAN access, sometimes referred to simply as HotSpots.
Back in early 1998, Farpoint Group identified public wireless LAN access as one of the most important directions in broadband. Of course, at that time, there weren't any such systems available, but the future trend was very clear to us: mobile users with mobile computers need mobile networks.
And the more broadband those networks, the greater the acceptance and the demand. We think access to the Internet and the Web will become just as important as voice communications in the future - and, just as we all have cell phones, we'll also all have devices that demand broadband access no matter where we happen to be.
Wireless LANs have always been a natural fit with the evolution of broadband access, and they remain such today. After all, wireless LANs are fast, cheap, standardized, and becoming essentially pervasive.
Intel's Centrino effort is clear evidence of the importance system vendors place on them. It won't be long before essentially every mobile device - from notebooks to PDAs to, yes, even cell phones, all have such capability. So, clearly, from the demand side, consumers of all types will be looking for places to connect via the wireless LAN they'll already have. There's no doubt users want wireless LANs, and they'll have them.
Most of the concern about the future of public wireless LANs, then, revolves around the amount of money the carriers and operators will require in order to implement and operate their networks, and, of course, their return on investment.
And, indeed, here in the early days of public wireless LANs, we see islands of connectivity, operated by a huge range of carriers, some large and some small, each with their own billing, marketing, support, security (or lack thereof) and related policies.