Wireless LAN service launched
1 April 2005 | 0
O2 has launched Ireland’s first public wireless LAN service, Wireless Zone. Now at last the ritual of businessmen checking their mobile phones during conference coffee breaks can be replaced with laptops accessing the Internet mid-conference, following the February 3 launch.
The service has been developed around a number of public ‘hotspots’ throughout Ireland where users can connect to the Internet wirelessly at high speeds.
O2’s WLAN introduction is not without precedent: one of the first moves to bring Wi-Fi into the public domain was when the Starbucks Coffee chain in North America made WLAN hotspots available in a number of its shops. However the mobile operator is taking a slightly different approach.
‘This is a business service and as such, we’ve looked at areas where businesspeople tend to congregate,’ says Tony Dempsey, Wireless LAN programme manager with O2 Ireland.
This service is being offered in public places such as hotels, conference centres and train stations. O2 has signed agreements with companies such as Jurys Doyle Hotel Group, Bewleys Hotel Group, Lynch Hotel Group and CIE for Heuston Station in Dublin. O2’s WLAN service is also being extended to other locations, including a number of public locations.
The service is based on the 802.11b industry standard for wireless networking, also known as Wi-Fi. Sites providing the service are fitted with a series of wireless access points, through which users with wirelessly enabled laptops and handheld units can access the Internet.
During trials of the service, tests showed that although the 802.11b standard allows for a theoretical maximum throughput of 11Mbit/s — from the device to the nearest access point — users can realistically expect a connection of 6 or 7Mbit/s. That should be more than adequate for most purposes: ‘We’ve seen 4 or 5 Megabyte files downloaded in 15 seconds,’ says Dempsey, adding that O2 has also tested a wide range of wireless LAN cards from a number of different suppliers to iron out any compatibility issues.
The infrastructure differs from O2’s mobile phone network in that the connections do not go via established GSM base stations, so users do not have to compete with voice traffic and Internet access and therefore should not be subject to busy signals. The connection is routed from the user device to the nearest access point, from there to a dish on the roof of the site, which in turn links to O2’s SDH network.
As many notebook computers are now preconfigured with wireless networking cards, Dempsey says that participating sites are being fitted with sufficient access points to cope with potentially large volumes of users. ‘We’ve thought ahead and built a lot of capacity into the sites,’ he told ComputerScope.
The operator has said there is an established business model in place with each of the site owners, which may differ from site to site. O2 is ‘working with each of the site owners to promote the service jointly,’ says Dempsey. Deals have been signed with a number of partners to roll out the service.
In phase two of the project, O2 may look into partnerships with additional networks to increase coverage for the service.