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Although it contains only 12 percent of the world's hotspots, Europe has been identified as the most expensive region to access a public wireless LAN.
According to recently published numbers, of the 37 percent of public Wi-Fi providers that sell monthly subscriptions, European providers charge the most.

The average price of a subscription in Europe is USD62 per month, compared to USD39 in the US and USD16 in Asia. These figures, contained in a new report from UK-based BroadGroup, compare with the global average of USD41 per month.

Another type of pricing scheme, 24-hour pricing, which allows WLAN access for one day, showed wild variances in costs to consumers as well, ranging from USD3.40 in Sweden to over USD33 in Switzerland. The average price of one 24-hour session in Europe came in at USD14.39.

Nevertheless, so-called 24-hour access has proven to be popular, with 40 percent of global hotspot companies offering this kind of service. The BroadGroup report said that this service has proven to be especially popular in Europe, where the most developed public hotspot regions are in the Nordics, Germany and Austria.

Public WLANs have range of about 100 metres and are typically based on 802.11b, which allows users to connect to the Internet at speeds of up to 11Mbps -- substantially faster than GPRS or dial-up services. In Ireland, hundreds of these so-called hotspots have already sprung up in offices across the country, but they are only now beginning to be deployed for public use, mainly in hotels.

Further analysis in BroadGroup's report made it clear that pricing and billing varies dramatically from region to region and from provider to provider as the burgeoning sector continues to expand and evolve. Philip Low, managing consultant at BroadGroup said that three dominant models have emerged among service providers that he characterises as "mobile," "location" or "Internet subscription."

The "mobile" model tends to allow for hour-by-hour or even minute-by-minute pricing and treats billing and service provision in manner similar to that of mobile telecoms. "Location" billing tends to bill based on day-by-day access in a single location while the "subscription" model charges uses a flat fee and assumes they will access the Net from multiple locations throughout the year.

Which of these models will prove most successful was not yet clear, Low said, although the mobile model is the weakest contender. "You can't treat [billing for] this kind of service in same way you do for mobile [phone] billing. It's a completely different kind of service."

Low also noted differences in how providers in Europe and North America were attacking the market, with American firms far more willing to enter into aggregation models whereby revenue sharing agreements with location owners are entered into. "European and Asia service providers seem to want to control all aspects of the value chain."

Low also told ElectricNews.Net that public Wi-Fi access will, in the medium term, remain a business-user driven sector, although the consumer market will grow in importance over time. "But some figures show that between 4 and 8 percent of travellers in Europe are business travellers, which is a sizeable market," he noted. Roaming or other means to create ubiquitous WLAN networks and billing systems are among the top demands from users, Low said.

© ENN

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