Hewlett-Packard will provide hotels, airports and other venues with wireless Internet access for either their own employees or the general public, it announced this week.
HP will walk interested organisations through the entire wireless LAN (WLAN) installation process, from designing the WLAN, installing the networking equipment, setting up subscription services through its partners, and servicing the network, said Michael Flanagan, worldwide wireless LAN solutions and programs manager for HP.
Companies that are partnering with HP include Cisco Systems, iPass, Aptilo Networks, and Boingo Wireless. HP will recommend network access points from Cisco, hardware from HP, and software from Aptilo to customers, but they will be free to choose their own providers based on their business needs, and HP will install that equipment, Flanagan said. The networks will use the 802.11b WLAN standard, also known as Wi-Fi.
HP will benefit down the road from becoming one of the first large national IT service providers to enter the WLAN services market, said Stan Schatt, vice president at Giga Information Group. IBM Global Services and Nokia jointly offer a similar service.
Because the technologies that control wireless networks are still very complex, companies that make the decision to install WLANs are likely to look for an outside service provider, Schatt said. If HP can build expertise in this market, it will latch onto a market that has been and will continue to grow exponentially from its current $US2 billion size, he said.
HP customers that operate public facilities such as airports will be able to opt for single-purpose or dual-purpose networks. The choice is between providing a network just for the public, or also allowing their own employees to exchange data over the same network. Choosing a dual-purpose network provides cost savings for enterprises, because they would only have to maintain one network for both internal and public data transmissions, Flanagan said.
Despite the cost-savings, "WLANs can't compete with wired LANs on a level playing field" as primary corporate networks, said Schatt. Wireless connections are dropped far more frequently than wired networks, and the speeds of wireless networks don't let them support sophisticated applications, he said.
Most companies that have installed WLANs have done so in addition to their regular wired LANs, he said. "You haven't seen a lot of enterprise customers ripping out their wired networks" and replacing them completely with WLANs, Schatt said. "WLANs just aren't there yet."
No service contract will be required as part of the installation, Flanagan said. Customers can choose to manage the network in-house, or allow HP to manage their networks, he said, recommending a two or three-year contract for those who choose HP's services.
Customers who sign up for HP's WLAN program can choose between subscription services from Boingo or iPass, who offer users around the world a network of WLAN "hot spots", or connection zones. They can choose to be billed by the hour, day, week, or other time increments by the service provider, passing along costs to their public users.
Pricing for larger installations will depend on the size of the network, the length of the consulting engagement, and whether or not the customer assumes responsibility for managing the network, said Flanagan. Customers looking for smaller networks will have to work out pricing with channel vendors based on the number of access points and other hardware they require, he said.