“No single technology has more promise and has been more hyped than mobile communication”.
This statement from a recent report by Travel Tech Consulting encapsulates the excitement that the rapidly spreading wireless LAN (*Wi-Fi) technology is generating throughout the travel industry, popping up in public spaces such as airports, hotels and cafes all over the globe.
The recent growth rate of hotspots across Europe to promote mobile services and mobile travel solutions is a clear sign that we are witnessing a rising trend that will both enhance the modern travelling experience and increase productivity away from the office.
Whilst there are still many technical and business challenges that need to be overcome in this market, many players are viewing WLAN hotspots as an exciting business opportunity, with wide-ranging business models being debated.
Worldwide Wi-Fi revenues are expected to grow from $7 billion in 2003 to over $44 billion by 2008, at a compounded annual rate of 44 percent. According to a June 2003 report from Gartner, the Wi-Fi market will continue to expand, with an expected 75 million users of Wi-Fi hotspots by 2008.
Although Europe were initially a little slow to catch on to this trend, it has recently been suggested, that wireless LAN technology will grow faster in Europe than North America over the next few years.
is one of a few pioneering companies in the European marketplace that is leading the adoption of Wireless LAN services in Europe.
During the World Travel market, BT Openzone wired up the ExCel centre, providing high-speed wireless internet access throughout entire the conference hall. This meant that for the first time in WTM history, visitors and exhibitors with Wi-Fi - enabled laptop computers and handheld devices could access the internet anywhere anytime.
Internet Travel News caught up with David Hughes, CEO, BT Wireless Broadband BT Retail at World Travel Market.
Q. Can you tell me about your own career in IT?
I’ve been running BT mobility for the last 2 years My task there was to create a wireless strategy for BT after the O2 merge. BT mobile re-launched and we created Openzone. It only became legal 2 years ago because of deregulation laws.
Q. It was announced yesterday that all Barbados hotels will all be Wi-Fi enabled by 2004. What are your thoughts on this?
I think it’s a great idea - we’d love to be involved.
Q. Do you think that’s an achievable target?
Well, it depends how many hotels there are. Also, it will depend on whether the entire hotel be Wi-Fi enabled, or just the public areas - meeting rooms and conference suites.
Q. Which countries do you predict will be the first to jump on the bandwagon?
US, Canada, I can’t think of a country that hasn’t got some kind of wireless activity going on. I would also predict that the Islands will soon follow after Barbados.
It’s quite interesting because the technology is quite simple, so as long as you’ve got a powerful internet capability. Wi-Fi is straight forward so often smaller companies chose to leap over dial up technology completely and go straight to Wi-Fi.
Q. What percentage of hotels are currently wireless in the UK?
It’s hard to say. I’m sure all the big hotel chains are either enabled or engaged in talks. We want to start talking to the smaller hotels because there is no reason why they couldn’t adopt the openzone box.
Q. What are the main benefits of wireless for users?
For the users it is an opportunity to get access to broadband internet connection away from home or in the office. That’s worth gold.
Q. How is BT openzone addressing security issues?
We have built security into openzone from the very word go. I have even been criticized by some colleagues in the industry for creating something that is over secure. So we are absolutely confident about security. The security we use is a VPN, so having connected to openzone on the internet, we provide customers with a VPN which allows them to securely transmit traffic from their lap top and all the way to their intranet.
Q. The combination of the dot-com bubble burst and the economic downturn have caused many to believe that the promised wireless wave is nothing but hype. What is your response to this view?
Well this is absolutely happening. I was looking at some curves yesterday. Over the last 7 months we have seen a 240% increase in traffic. This has been rolled out to over 1700 sites and 4000 sites by September 2004, so this is really happening - people are using it. Openzone and Wi-Fi are very affordable as well - corporate tariff is £5 per month. - that covers the costs of an entire workforce of a major company.
Q. What are your predictions regarding wireless technologies over the next 12 - 18 months?
I think you are going to see wifi everywhere. And you are going to find hotspots wherever you want them. Anywhere that you sit down and open a laptop you are going to find a hotspot - hopefully it will be a bt openzone hotspot.
Q. What will be the standards that dominate within the wireless travel arena?
At this stage, the amount of users that will go from openzone to an American network or vice versa is relatively modest - Since it is too expensive to do a roaming deal with every country on the planet, the solution would be to create a hub with common standards, operated by an independent organization. That way everyone could connect and roaming conversation becomes a simple contractual conversation.
Q. How realistic is this vision?
This is very realistic. Wireless Broadband Alliance (WBA) will be trialing those roaming standards within the next few months.
We have found a group of carrier grade IT companies who are interested in security and good quality service, therefore referring customers to each others high quality networks so they are growing back the companies that become members of the WBA and our hope is that that it will become a global clearing house of WiFi operators - it makes such sense - the biggest network of WiFi operators in the world.
Q. In what ways will wireless transform distribution channels within the travel industry?
We are seeing people making decisions on where to stay based on the availability of wireless service.
The cellular market has bypassed the hotel market and in many ways damaged the revenues because people aren’t using the room phones any more - that’s bad news for the travel industry whereas Wi-Fi is part of the operations therefore part of the value chain
Q. What makes BT openzone a good choice of operator?
We are the most secure operator, we have all the distribution that BT has got and we also have service branches like Vodaphone and Orange.
*WiFi is a technology that combines Ethernet and wireless communications, making it possible for computers and other electronic gear to send and receive high-speed data in a local area network without a wired connection.