Wi-Fi has been promoted as the ultimate last-mile broadband solution since its emergence in the late 1990s. But even as consumer acceptance has grown, service providers are struggling to make money. About the only companies to profit are the hardware makers.
Wi-Fi’s problem is that it requires users to alter their behaviour.
Mobile workers cannot necessarily go to their favourite or nearest café to log on, they must go to a specific location.
Field service agents are more likely to want to access their intranet from their vehicle or their client’s premises — not from a McDonalds restaurant. Alternately, mobile phone networks offer data speeds that are too slow to be acceptable for many tasks.
One day, someone might develop a highly profitable Wi-Fi network, but this won’t happen before several service providers have collapsed or disappeared.
However, another set of disruptive technologies could rewrite the rules before the Wi-Fi players have even found their feet.
In December, Personal Broadband Australia (PBBA) launched a service that provides data transfer rates of up to 1Mbps across most of the inner Sydney metropolitan area.
The company has said it will roll out networks in Melbourne, Brisbane and Canberra in September, with other capital cities to follow, while increasing its Sydney coverage.
In March, BigAir Australia unveiled a service that uses enhanced Wi-Fi for a point-to-multipoint service over wide areas, and Hutchison has launched a data service based on its third-generation ‘3’ telephony network. The ASX-listed company, Unwired Australia, has raised $128.8 million to build a national network similar to that of PBBA and has already run a pilot program in the Sydney suburb of Balmain.
The beauty of these wireless broadband networks is that they do not disrupt a working person’s life. In fact, they enhance it by enabling workers to regain time during which they might have otherwise been disconnected, where that equates to being unproductive. A mobile worker needs only to open up their notebook and log on, regardless of where they are, to be connected.
All four services described have different benefits in terms of speed and coverage, and will be priced accordingly. What they all share in common is a need to reach as many consumers as possible, as quickly as possible. For Australia’s resellers, wireless wide-area broadband represents a great opportunity to participate in the wireless revolution.
Firstly, wireless broadband services present a strong up-selling opportunity to notebook retailers, who are in the perfect position to recruit new subscribers.
Secondly, wireless broadband presents opportunities for software developers already working in the wireless space. Unwired and PBBA promise speeds sufficient for surfing the Web or a company’s intranet, increasing the range of functionality of field applications.
Already a new group of companies — such as Verital, Mobile Broadband and SecureTel — are leveraging off the PBBA service to develop their businesses. More opportunities will exist to partner with PBBA and other services, or to resell the services of their tier-one partners.
To date, most resellers have had little opportunity to participate in the wireless revolution, apart from selling the hardware. Through bundling of access, and development of new services, wireless broadband promises a new revenue stream for those nimble enough to take advantage of it.