Wi-Fi Business Models Require Cooperation

BOSTON — In his keynote this morning, Nomadix CTO Joel Short asked the question perplexing many 802.11 Planet Conference & Expo attendees: How do we (in the industry) make money on this.

“There is a way, it’s cooperation,” Short said.

Industry players — hardware and software makers, Internet service providers, wireless carriers, and retailers, such as hotels and coffee shops — need to solve several problems for Wi-Fi to gain mass adoption, and generate significant revenues and profits, Short said.

Take billing. Currently, there are several methods for charging for wireless Internet access, including prepaid, billing through Internet service providers, wireless service providers, mobile carriers or corporate accounts.

Although there can be more than one method, there needs to be better communication between the groups to make billing and collection easier for all the parties.

There is also a need for interoperability of hardware and software, so traffic can be picked up by various networks without experiencing slowdowns or drops.

Short said Proxim is doing its part. A new version of the Westlake Village, Calif., company’s software, announced here at the show, is a network service engine for public access hotspots that enables enhanced roaming, security and billing.

Other issues include working with industry groups to establish standards that will allow developers to create new applications, which will further drive Wi-Fi adoption. Users are already snapping up Wi-Fi enables laptops, PDA and phones at a rapid clip. By 2007 the industry will pump out 50 million devices annually, Short said.

Finally, Short said making users more aware of hotspots is necessary. Warchalking — the practice of marking sidewalks to alert users that a hotspot is nearby — is slowly being replaced by signs, both from retailers including McDonalds and the WiFi Alliance.

He also cautioned that success in Wi-Fi will be defined differently for each party. For example, Hilton Hotels is rolling out Wi-Fi for competitive reasons, not to make money off the service itself. By offering it as an amenity, the chain expects to book more reservations — especially from business travelers.

Over the next few years, users will continue to make steps toward becoming fully ‘nomadic.’

“It’s up to us to solve these problems,” Short said. “We have to come together as an industry and make things interoperable for users.”

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