Wi-Fi's Bright Future Signals New Strategy

Service providers get on the bandwagon

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In a world where the ranks of road warriors are ever-increasing, it's easy to see why wireless LANs based on the Wi-Fi standard are projected to be one of the fastest-growing technologies,and why service providers are rushing to provide the service nearly everywhere.

"The issue [wireless ISPs are beginning to face is that the people that use the service are never in the same spot," said Bharat Dave, president and COO of GRIC Communications, Milpitas, Calif.

Wi-Fi, also known as 802.11b, is expected to be a $4.6 billion market by 2005, according to MDR/Instat. With big dollars and the obvious appeal of anywhere/anytime access, companies such as Wi-Fi Metro are jumping on the bandwagon.

Wi-Fi Metro is rolling out a network of 100 Wi-Fi hotspots in cafes, airports and hotels. Today the company has more than 40 Apple AirPort access points in the Bay area, and 400 access points nationwide set up through partnerships.

Other ISPs and telephony companies are seeking to private-label Wi-Fi Metro's service, said Arturo Pereyra, general manager at Wi-Fi Metro, Palo Alto, Calif.

The company is also in the midst of creating "hot zones," a roaming area of about 300 feet from a central location.

While Wi-Fi Metro is tackling wireless access on a local level, GRIC is attempting to create a global Wi-Fi network building on an alliance of 300 ISPs and telcos that give users dial-up access outside of their ISPs' service area. Customers do not have to sign up with another ISP or pay as they go when they travel.

Software developed by GRIC recognizes the user and the user's local ISP and then tracks and records the transaction. Usage charges are then transparently billed between the local ISP and the ISP the user is visiting.

GRIC is developing a universal access client which allows users to locate an access point in the vicinity without creating setups for every different access point.

"The way the technology is being deployed now is with different wireless LAN cards and different access points all with a slightly different way to get set up," said said John Rasmus, vice president of business and corporate development at GRIC. "It's not good for the adoption rate of this technology if the user is forced to create new setups all the time."

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