WLAN poised for takeoff in Asia-Pacific

Wireless LAN (WLAN) services are beginning to achieve growth in the Asia-Pacific region after two years of struggling to be accepted, according to research firm Gartner Inc.’s Dataquest unit.

According to Dataquest, there are now six important WLAN markets in the region – Australia, Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan. These markets are all experiencing a good choice of operators, improved service coverage and prices falling to affordable levels.

Incumbent telecommunications operators such as Singapore Telecommunications Ltd. (SingTel) in Singapore and Telstra Corp. Ltd. in Australia are leading the way, despite not being first to market, Dataquest said.

The emergence of the big players in the WLAN, or WiFi, market has helped drive prices down to a level where ordinary consumers are comfortable with the service value, but has already started to squeeze smaller operators out of the market, Dataquest said. The cost in Korea has now fallen to US$2.60 per hour, and in Singapore to $0.12 per minute, equivalent to $7.20 per hour..

The most aggressive service provider in the region is Korea Telecom Corp. which has plans to install 16,000 hotspots by the end of 2003, Dataquest said. The operators are concentrating their coverage in major public places such as airports, commercial buildings, and food and beverage outlets.

The large carriers are looking at bundling their WLAN services with other offerings, making it even harder for specialist WLAN companies to survive, Dataquest said.

Last Friday, Telstra paid A$3.3 million (US$1.93 million) to acquire the network assets of Australia’s pioneer public WLAN operator, SkyNetGlobal Ltd., which has more than 600 WiFi hotspots worldwide including some outside Australia which operate through roaming agreements with third parties.

WLAN systems adhering to the 802.11b standard carry data at up to 11M bps (bits per second) in the 2.4GHz frequency band. A more advanced standard known as 802.11a allows for data transmission at up to 54M bps in the 5GHz band.