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The PWLAN question

The potential market opportunity for Public Wireless Local Area Networks (PLWAN) is causing many location owners to consider deployment.For example, Fairmont Hotels and Resorts Inc. recently made an a...

February 1, 2002  

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The potential market opportunity for Public Wireless Local Area Networks (PLWAN) is causing many location owners to consider deployment.

For example, Fairmont Hotels and Resorts Inc. recently made an announcement with Cisco that it is fitting its properties with wireless, using 802.11 technology. Guests will have instant access, using their own wireless PC cards or one borrowed from the hotel concierge. Other public domains have also conducted experiments, such the Ottawa International Airport’s trial with 802.11 in partnership with Nokia.

Prime PWLAN locations include an abundance of possibilities ranging from highly open environments, such as airports, hotels, convention centres, and shopping malls, to semi-public locations like university campuses, public schools and hospitals. Currently, the PWLAN market is a mishmash of technologies (Wi-Fi, 802.11 a/b, Bluetooth), service providers (ISPs, independent WISPs, mobile carriers, etc.), and end users (nomadic public as well as enterprise user groups and individuals).


Despite a lot of market activity, there is still uncertainty over whether PWLAN service providers can make a go of it and whether location owners will reap the value-add rewards. In broad terms, a successful PWLAN market will largely depend on the continuing evolution and experiences of WLANs within the enterprise.

Although WLAN penetration remains relatively immature, increasing product demand and consistent market growth are making their entrance into the public domain an increasingly attractive business proposition.

There are several specific drivers contributing to the development of the PWLAN market:

Commitment from vendors (primarily notebook PC vendors) to integrate IEEE 802.11b;

Technology advances (component reductions) and downward pricing pressures;

Increasing acceptance WLAN technologies in the enterprise environment;

Introduction of user-friendly products.

From a technology perspective, the PWLAN market faces many of the same obstacles as the enterprise market. Consequently, leading vendors in the enterprise segment will strive to extend much of their technology and know-how into the PWLAN market. The fact that the existing enterprise base has solicited solutions created for the PWLAN market confirms this observation.


The emerging PWLAN-based services market does present challenges such as billing, operation, maintenance and roaming that require the adoption of new standards, technologies and regulations.

Given the downturn in key PWLAN target industries, such as travel and hospitality, as well as heightened security concerns at major transportation hubs, it is anticipated that service providers and some location owners will exercise caution in rolling out PWLAN-based services. However, the positive impact of these delays is the increasing pressure on vendors to assess real demand for specific PWLAN-based services and create viable business models.

The increasing success of WLANs is making the public versions a promising opportunity for both location owners and service providers. In the near term, location owners are likely to take a more proactive role in shaping technologies by implementing policies regarding technology and business components. Pilot projects will also continue to provide the basis for price setting and user feedback, such as higher-end security and management capabilities. CS

Jeremy R. Depow (who shares this column with the Yankee Group’s Iain Grant) is a Senior Analyst with the Yankee Group in Canada, a technology-consulting firm in Brockville, ON. In this position, Mr. Depow is responsible for primary research and analysis of new telecom technologies and market developments. He also holds responsibility for the authoring of several Yankee Group Research Reports.

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