Canada Pushes for More Wi-Fi

By Sean Michael Kerner

March 17, 2004

At the Wi-Fi Planet show in Toronto, presenters say wireless is pervasive, though most don't want to pay for it outside of the enterprise.

TORONTO -- The Canadian government may soon have to change the official motto of Ontario to "Wireless she began and wireless she remains" as the number of hotspots continues to rise in the area.

According to research collected by Bell Canada, one third of large businesses and 20 percent of medium-sized business in Canada use Wi-Fi . But general manager Kerry Eberwein says wireless in the country may be very pervasive, but it doesn't mean that you always have to be working.

"Do not to get caught up in wireless hype," Eberwein said to attendees at this week's Wi-Fi Planet Expo and Conference here.

Eberwein noted that Bell's research found adoption of Wi-Fi and its ubiquity relies on four critical factors: a strong footprint, stability of standards, price affordability and ease of use.

"Wireless can offer significant business advantages for all enterprise verticals," Eberwein said, suggesting that carrier grade wireless solutions are particularly important for health care enterprises as it can reduce error and improve efficiencies.

Similar to its American counterparts, Bell Canada has been expanding its offerings, including building its wireless portfolio. Eberwein said the company is now committed to pursuing wireless access across the provinces. The company also supplies satellite television, Internet access, owns the Globe and Mail Newspaper and the CTV television network, and of course still operates a large Canadian Telco base. The motivation is quite simple, according to Eberwein. Bell Canada wanted to bring carrier-grade quality to wireless solutions.

Part of the company's Wi-Fi strategy has been to deploy hotspots in train stations and airports using existing infrastructure in those locations. Already, Bell Canada has replaced some of its public payphone installations, which had connectivity and power, with wireless hotspot technology.

Sadly for Bell, public Wi-Fi is still not a revenue generating business. The stalwart Canadian Telco said it sees its current Wi-Fi hotspots in public locations and passenger trains as pilots to gauge consumer demand and requirements.

That lack of moneymaking prospects for hotspots is troublesome to Jupiter Research's Julie Ask, who led a panel discussion on the revenue generating potential of Wi-Fi access points like the ones found in Starbucks.

Sean O' Mahoney, president & CEO of Wi-Fi hotspot company FatPort noted that his company's research found only 6 percent of Canadians expected Wi-Fi for free. That contrasted starkly with a number noted by Ask, whose research suggests 60 percent of Americans want hotspot access but don't want to pay for it.

Ask also mentioned Jupiter Research statistics that showed that in the United States, 70 percent of the online population is aware of Wi-Fi, but only 1 percent had ever actually paid for wireless access.

As the largest public Wi-Fi provider in Canada, FatPort claims its 60-minute access offerings is the most popular service at 56 percent of all signups. O'Mahoney did concede that the average FatPort customer is online for 1 hour and 26 minutes.

"At this point it's not about profit. It's about cash flow," he said, noting that FatPort has seen some success by having roaming agreements with other global hotspot providers allowing subscribers unified billing and access no matter where they are or whose network they may be using.

Still, the company said it is expecting some long-term payoffs. In September of 2003, the Vancouver-based provider signed an agreement with San Francisco-based Surf and Sip to add 500 hotspots in the United States and the United Kingdom. O'Mahoney said FatPort expects to have 2,200 roaming locations by the end of 2004.

The Wi-Fi Planet Expo and Conference is produced by Jupitermedia, parent company of this Web site.



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