Mobile computer users will be able to take advantage of the growing number of wireless 'hotspots', even without wireless capability, under a new plan by Optus.
Optus will begin a trial next week of DeskBridge -- a device that enables Ethernet connection from Wi-Fi locations, called hotspots.
DeskBridge, from UK-based company TeleAdapt, is a small, stand-alone device that offers wired access to wireless networks via a retractable Ethernet cable. This makes wireless connections possible for notebook computers which are not Wi-Fi enabled, or for other mobile computing devices.
Brendon Granger, director of Business Development Asia Pacific, who is bringing the device to market in Australia, said the devices were doing well in the US market, where they were introduced in September last year.
"FedEx and Kinkos stores which offer hotspots have deployed the units to improve take-up rates," he said.
Granger said one of the inhibitors for hotspot take-up is that many notebooks were not yet wireless-enabled, and also that many corporates did not allow employees to connect to wireless networks, for management and security reasons.
He believes DeskBridge will help drive wireless hotspot usage, and it will also be popular due to its ease of use and the extra mobility it offers within Wi-Fi areas.
"For the end user, it's as easy as pulling out the cable from DeskBridge and plugging it into their laptop. There's no need to install any software or drivers, or even supply their own patch cable," he said.
"For the hotspot operator, DeskBridge can be pre-configured for their specific wireless network, ignoring any other networks within the vicinity."
An operator can configure DeskBridge and change network settings by accessing the HTTP interface from a Web browser, then allowing changes to many settings, including the SSID and WEP and MAC cloning.
DeskBridge is fully compatible with IEEE 802.11b/g networks.
The wireless hotspot market in Australia has doubled in the last year, with revenue of $1 million at the end of 2004, according to statistics from IDC. Hotspot geographical locations have risen from 300 at the end of 2003 to 500 at the end of 2004.
Even so, IDC senior analyst Warren Chaisatien, said these figures are grim.
"This is a tiny revenue when you look at the fact that there are at least 12 players in the market, and five or six of those are major players," he said.
"That means the smaller players are looking at a revenue way below $100,000 a year."
Chaisatien said one of the reasons hotspot usage had not taken off was that wireless broadband offerings by companies such as Unwired offered more coverage for a cheaper price.
Corporates were also hesitant to let employees use wireless hotspots, with the major inhibitor being security, followed by cost and then a lack of standards, he said.
According to Chaisatien only Telstra, and to some extent Optus, will have deep enough pockets to continue to invest in Wi-Fi enabled locations.
"Although, Optus has made announcements which suggest they are re-considering their investment in Wi-Fi," he said.
A spokesperson for Optus said that although the telco was not rolling out hotspots as quickly as first predicted, it was still deploying them: "We are just being more focused in the locations to enable, instead of just rolling it out anywhere."
The main target is the mobile worker, which is why Optus has included airport terminals and Supreme Courts in its hotspot map, according to the spokesperson.
Optus will be trialling DeskBridge in six of its hotspot connections, starting at the end of next week.