Yellowspotting Asia

Tech entrepreneur Eg Kah Yee’s expounds a vision of uniting Asia and
Australia in a wireless web to keep businesspeople connected as they travel from
Sydney to Singapore and beyond. Yet like other Wi-Fi proponents, Eg faces a
formidable hurdle: the gap between the glorious future and the rather pedestrian

Eg is the founder of Malaysian tech company Palette Multimedia, which markets
wireless services through its Yellowspots subsidiary. Yellowspots provides
802.11b hotspot access in cafes, office buildings and other public places in
Singapore. Yellowspots operates in Australia through a partnership with Air

Yellowspots is not actually building a wireless network. Instead, it acts as
an aggregator. The company brings together telecos, Internet service providers
and other operators to allow Yellowspots subscribers to roam across national

Like its U.S. counterpart Boingo, Yellowspots wants to become a wireless
brand name. Here’s how it works: a businessperson in Singapore buys a pre-paid
Yellowspots card and heads off to a trade show. She powers up her Wi-Fi-equipped
laptop and uses her Yellowspots ID and password to log on to the wireless
system. Two days later she flies to Sydney for a meeting. While waiting in the
lobby of an office tower in the CBD, she uses the same password to log on to the
local wireless net.

Yellowspots handles the back office billing as well as the revenue-sharing
arrangements between the various parties. “I don’t think there will be a single
hotspots player in any country. Our strategy is to partner,” said Eg during a
recent visit to Sydney to promote Yellowspots. “We want to roam with all these
guys, get them connected.”

Eg, a 42-year-old U.S-educated engineer and Silicon Valley veteran, compares
Yellowspots’ service to GSM networks that allow mobile phone subscribers to
travel from country to country without interruption in service.

Unwiring cafes is just the start, he says, sketching a plan to provide
hotspot service to corporate headquarters and residential neighborhoods.
Yellowspots is negotiating with telecoms and other service providers to offer
hotspots service in Malaysia, Taiwan and China.

At the moment though, there isn’t much roaming room through Yellowspots
outside of Singapore. The company has about 150 locations there, ranging from a
Starbucks to a convention center.

Yellowspots offers just half a dozen locales in Australia through its Air
Portal partner. So unless international travelers happen to be confabing at a
couple of locations in the Sydney CBD or lunching at Bisq or the Hatch in
Melbourne, they’re out of luck. And you can only access Air Portal’s hotspots if
your service provider is one of the company’s three current ISP partners, only
one of which is based in Australia. And thus the old chicken-or-the-egg dilemma.

Without a critical mass of hotspots, why should anyone bother to go out and
fork over the cash for a Wi-Fi card and then pay for wireless service they can
only use at a few scattered locations. On the other hand, what is the incentive
to create a hotspots infrastructure if there’s not sufficient base of
subscribers? Then there’s the question of culture.

While Singaporeans or San Franciscans may be quite happy to tap away on their
laptops while sipping a grande non-fat latte, Sydneysiders and other Australians
don’t seem quite as enamored with the cyber caf? scene. It’s hard to imagine
anyone making money off suits from the big end of town going online while
dashing out for a coffee.

The hotspots that count for businesspeople are airports, hotels and office
buildings. Air Portal marketing executive Michelle Neil acknowledges that
there’s not much there there when it comes to hotspots in Australia. “We’re
still evangelizing in Australia, going after venues and locations.”

But she says that’s about to change. A forthcoming deal with a “big” ISP will
result in 2 million subscribers who can access Air Portal hotspots, according to
Neil. Air Portal also is negotiating with hotels and business locations to
install hotspots.

“We will have 30 hotspots by January and then will quickly go up to 150 after
some major announcements in January,” she says. Other potential hotspots are new
residential developments and apartment buildings. More importantly, Eg and Neil
are counting on the likes of Intel, Dell and other manufacturers to drive the
wireless wave.

As computer makers begin to install Wi-Fi cards and chips as standard
equipment in laptops, PDAs and other gadgets, the thinking goes, consumers will
look for places to play with their new toys. “You have to turn it in to a
lifestyle,” Eg says.

Yellowspots also expects companies like Intel to help roll out hotspots to
push adoption of their Wi-Fi products. “Every new device in a year’s time is
going to be Wi-Fi enabled,” Neil asserts. If that comes true, it begs another
question: How long before the lumbering telecom giants decide to jump into this
wireless free-for-all and grab the Wi-Fi market for themselves?

Reprinted from

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