More than 21 million Americans will be using public wireless local area networks (WLANs) in 2007, attracted by the cheap and superfast remote Internet access provided in airports, shopping malls, coffee bars and hotels, according to a report by Analysys.
Public WLAN services enable users to hook up their laptops and PDAs to their Internet service provider (ISP) or company intranet at speeds of up to 11 Mb/s.
"The appeal of these services means that the number of hot-spot locations in the U.S. will grow from 3,700 this year to 41,000 by 2007," said Monica Paolini, a co-author of the report. "This will, in turn, generate over $3 billion in service revenues."
The development of the WLAN market has been spurred on by the industry-wide adoption of a common technical platform based on the IEEE 802.11b standard [definition]. A rapidly growing number of devices (forecast to top 91 million in the next five years), such as PDAs and laptops, are now being shipped with cards already installed that can make use of public WLAN networks.
According to the report, the most notable issue to be resolved is the ability of public WLAN operators to provide a wide coverage for potential users. These operators need to pursue roaming agreements with each other to minimize the cost of deploying access gateways in every possible hot-spot location.
"For the market to accelerate as we expect, it's imperative for service providers to offer better location information and network detection software as part of well-presented service propositions with appropriate security and pricing," Paolini said.
The impact WLAN services will have on the cellular phone market remains unclear. Analysys predicts that by 2007 the public WLAN market will equate to about 25 percent of mobile data service revenues and could cannibalize up to 7 percent of cellular data operator revenues in the United States.
"While cell phone use has become principally a consumer-oriented product/service, public broadband connectivity, aside from kiosk-based access, continues to be corporate-driven and is targeted to meet the needs of the business traveler," said Amy Cravens, an industry analyst with In-Stat/MDR. "Service providers and hardware manufacturers in this space are intently focused on enabling those applications that are most demanded by business travelers and ensuring a level of network security appropriate for the confidential corporate content that will flow over them. Furthermore, while kiosk access is, principally, a pay-as-you-go service, WLAN providers base their revenue model on pre-paid subscription plans."
According to In-Stat, among the drivers most critical to the success of public area WLANs is the corporate adoption of VPNs, corporate conversion to notebooks and wireless roaming agreements.
In-Stat also expects the corporate culture of North America will make the region the predominant public area access market throughout the forecast period. The airport is currently the primary area of interest for public area access, but other possible locations include convention centers, cafes, train stations and airplanes.
The WLAN -802.11 market (including 802.11a and 802.11b) grew 21 percent from the third quarter of 2001 to the fourth quarter, with revenues of $363.3 million, according to the Dell'Oro Group.
"While 802.11a products began shipping during the quarter, they represented a very small percentage of the overall market," according to Greg Collins, a director at Dell'Oro Group. "We forecast that in 2002 the vast majority of the wireless LAN market will continue to be 802.11b."
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