A new wireless network is expected to be launched next week throughout Qantas Airways lounges and the Starwood Hotels & Resorts Group, designed to provide travelling execs access to the Internet and their corporate LANs.
Behind the rollout is ASX-listed network provider SkyNetGlobal, which is in the process of installing mini base-stations in more than 200 locations in 100 cities worldwide. The network uses the IEEE 802.11b standard for wireless transmission (at speeds of 11Mbps), with subscribers issued the appropriate software and wireless Ethernet card to connect their notebook to the network.
The premise of the network is to provide low-cost broadband Internet access to travelling employees during waiting periods such as in airports or hotels, without the need for wired or dial-in connections.
In Australia, SkyNetGlobal has partnered with services company Unisys for the implementation and networking vendors Nortel (for its core switching) and Enterasys, for an initial 22,000 wireless network interface cards.
Robert Naddei, chief operating officer for SkyNetGlobal, says the network subscription will cost around $45 per month, which includes a subsidised wireless NIC and around $22-25 per month for users who already own a card. "It works in much the same way as a mobile phone contract," says Naddei.
SkyNetGlobal will also offer a corporate plan which sees one account service up to five users at a cost of around $95 per month. A secure VPN is also being offered between a company's LAN and SkyNetGlobal's network. Prices had not been finalised at the time of press.
Enterasys' holding company Cabletron has backed the project with a $2 million, or 10 per cent, equity stake in the company. Under the agreement, SkyNetGlobal has the opportunity to purchase technology from Enterasys at a reduced cost.
Unisys too has invested in the project, both as the subcontracted integrator and as a customer providing its own employees subscription to the service. However, Unisys claims its two roles will remain separate.
Scott Wyman, director of e-business for Unisys, says the contract is potentially worth $10 million to the integrator over three years.
"They went to market with an international integrator who can service the contract throughout the world," claims Wyman. "Frankly there's not a lot of companies that can do that."
SkyNetGlobal has a target subscriber base of 36,000 by the end of next year, with network connectivity initially offered through all 30 Qantas Airways lounges in Australia and New Zealand. Starwood Hotels & Resorts Group include Sheraton, Westin, St Regis, W, Four Points and The Luxury Collection chains of hotels.
Photograph: Unisys' Scott Wyman.