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Telewest points the way

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If the dream of universal public wireless LAN access is to become a reality, one thing's for certain: there will have to be more Wi-Fi access devices used more widely by the general mobile public. That means more laptops with Wi-Fi, more PDAs with Wi-Fi and more games consoles with Wi-Fi. It also means that sitting comfortably using wireless access will no longer be just the preserve of the road warrior or corporate executive, writes Rob Bamforth of Bloor Research.

Being comfortable with Wi-Fi is only the first stage, demanding it is what most vendors hope will follow next.

So will the growth of home Wi-Fi networks be a major catalyst?

The only drawback has been the challenges and awkwardness of installation. Without a tame techie in tow only the brave few have embarked on a home wireless LAN project. With good fortune, some effort, and much swearing at sets of manuals they might reach a successful conclusion. It can be very hit and miss.

This is set to change. Telewest Broadband, the UK Cable Internet service provider, has launched a self-installation pack for wireless home access to their broadband Internet service. The pack is priced to tempt at only £35, and is based on a pre-configured Netgear access point married to the cable modem, which is currently built into the cableco's set-top box.

Not only is this useful for those wanting to surf from a laptop in bed, on the sofa or in the garden, it also solves the other problem - few homes are cabled up for Ethernet. The regular Telewest Broadband cable modem being part of the set-top box doesn't fit well with most house layouts as the TV is only co-located with PC in one in five homes. So 'wireless' means less wires, even if it's only used to hook up with an existing desktop computer.

The cost of adding wireless cards in devices is dropping. Industry initiatives such as Intel's marketing juggernaut around the Centrino chipset are gathering momentum. It's likely more and more manufacturers of a wide variety of products will bundle Wi-Fi access with their products. Sony have recently announced that next year's PlayStation Portable will include Wi-Fi.

The move by Telewest is important for them in the increasingly competitive broadband supply landscape. It is sure to be welcomed by their customers, as well as copied by their rivals.

The effect on the hotspot market could be even more significant.

There is only so much scope for attracting more mobile business users into coffee shops, and keeping them busy in their otherwise idle moments in airports and hotel lobbies. To ensure an adequate coverage model and income for providers, hotspots need to be welcoming consumers.

If Telewest's approach leads to a large percentage of broadband users becoming comfortable with wireless data access throughout the home, it might just stimulate sufficient consumer demand to push the hotspot bandwagon a little faster. ®

Copyright © 2003 IT Analysis.com

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