8 September 2003 The number of wireless local area networks (WLANs) in the UK is set to more than treble as demand from business travellers rockets.
The Cloud, the UK’s biggest wholesale operator of WLAN or ‘WiFi’ hotspots, is to roll out thousands more networks after reaching a deal with pay phone operator NWP Spectrum to install the equipment at some or all of NWP’s 8,000 pay phone locations around the country.
The deal will significantly extend the UK’s burgeoning WiFi network. By the end of 2003, analysts estimate that there will be 4,000 hotpots in operation at UK airports, hotels, coffee shops and other locations.
If anything, the global growth of WiFi networks is even faster. In recent research, analyst Datamonitor predicted that the number of WiFi hotspots around the world will jump from 1.5 million today to 23 million in 2006, with networks generating revenue for service providers worth some $7 billion by then.
The Cloud, part of the Leisure Link entertainment group, rents capacity on its hundreds of WiFi networks to service providers such as BT and T-Mobile. It also offers a pre-pay service at some of its 1,850 sites.
The deal with NWP appears to represent a significant push by The Cloud into the business market. NWP owns thousands of sites in locations popular with travelling business people, including many airport locations. So far, all of The Cloud’s 1,850 sites are in pubs and bars across the UK.
Meanwhile, the Japanese electronics giant Sony will this week launch a high-end, WiFi handset aimed at business users. The Sony product is expected to be priced at about £600, and will offer email access and other enterprise applications, as well as video transmission, digital camcorder and music player.