Public access WiFi systems are currently being deployed three times faster than - and at tenth of the cost of - 3G network base stations, claims specialist implementation company AlanDick.
"We're now installing many more WiFi hotspots than 3G base stations," said John Oliver, AlanDick's WiFi business development manager.
"We're installing 100s of public access WiFi Access Points a month for the four main Wireless Internet Access Service Providers (WISPs) in the UK," he said, adding that AlanDick is also doing its bit to cut costs by combining the site survey and site installation processes on the same visit.
Oliver's comments come in the wake of BT Openzone's commitment to have around 13,000 WiFi hotspots available worldwide (Mobile News; April 19) to its subscribers by the end of the year, whilst its UK coverage rises steadily on the back of network expansion and roaming arrangements.
"Now that Nokia has committed to including WiFi facilities as standard in its upcoming Communicator 9500 mobile phone, and other WiFi-equipped GSM handsets are also reportedly in the pipeline, the prospects for WiFi have never looked better," said Oliver.
But will we ever see WiFi as a standard option in a 3G handset? Not in the immediate future, he cautions.
"Let me put it another way - whilst 3G handset form factors are now firmly out of the talking brick category, users will still have to wait for premium 3G or GSM handsets to support WiFi as a standard feature. In the meantime, they should think seriously about equipping themselves with a WiFi card for their notebook or PDA, and enjoy the benefits of low-cost wireless surfing," he explained.
And with branded WiFi PC and compact flash cards coming in at around the £50 mark, Oliver argues that it is cheaper and easier for notebook and PDA users to buy a card now, rather than pay a hefty premium for the facility on their next mobile phone.
"When you compare the costs of Web surfing and email access via WiFi to those of GPRS, the payback time for a WiFi card can be measured in a matter of months, after which time most business users are actually saving themselves money," he said.
Oliver also predicts that WiFi will become the road warrior's medium of choice for mobile data within the next 12 months.
AlanDick is working tirelessly behind the scenes to make this rapid deployment of WiFi networks a reality, harnessing the firm's wide range of skill sets and ability to adhere to tight standards.
"The work involved in deploying a WiFi Access Point is just as demanding as installing a cellular base station: engineering staff must carefully plan the installation, taking into account the aesthetic, as well as practical, needs of the site, and the need to ensure that the system meets all the technical standards required of it, yet still adhere to what is usually a very tight budget and timescale," he said.
Oliver went on to explain that AlanDick has developed an offsite preparation process that gives both itself - and its client companies - access to multi-site economies of scale.
And with 100s of Access Points going up every month across the UK, economies of scale are a must-have, he said, if the WiFi network operators are to achieve their financial targets.
Installation teams for each WiFi Access Point install tend to fall into one of two categories - single engineer or teams of up to five or six people - with each member of the latter having their own speciality area of expertise.
Such is the pressure for Access Point installations at the moment, that AlanDick's staff are frequently called upon to install several hotspots a day.
"Targets like these are not easy to reach, so it's imperative that our staff are able to install the cabling as quickly and efficiently as possible. In a hotel environment, that usually means siting the cabling behind the scenes as far as possible," he said.
Oliver is proud of the fact that his staff are involved with the rollout of public WiFi networks across the UK to the extent they have been to date.
"Few companies have the skill sets and background in radio communications that AlanDick has. Teamwork and expertise are key - these are not skills that you can develop or buy in overnight," he said.
AlanDick, founded in 1971, is a world-leading communications organisation spanning 5 continents and serving the wireless, fixed line, broadcast and radio communications markets.
The company boasts a unique service providing comprehensive infrastructure solutions for broadcasters, telecoms providers, cellular network operators, plus aeronautical and military users. Its ability to plan, develop, manufacture, deploy and manage these communication networks internationally won the company The Queen's Award for Enterprise for the third time in April 2003.
In addition, AlanDick offers a wide range of services including site acquisition, logistics, network operations (NOC), radio network engineering and training academy.
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