UK keen on wireless LAN hot spots

The future of wireless is a topic of major concern to the British government, which would like to coordinate with the United States as much as possible in terms of technologies, standards and regulation, says an official from the British consulate, which had its own booth at NetWorld+Interop 2003.

Business use of IEEE 802.11b wireless LANs, or Wi-Fi, is spreading in Great Britain as it is in the U.S. In addition, so-called Wi-Fi “hot spots,” public locations where users can gain Internet access via a service provider, are also flourishing, says one British official.

“IBN – a group formed by British Telecom, Ericsson and Intel – will be deploying 30,000 hot spots across the United Kingdom,” says Dale Smith, vice consul and IT sector specialist in the British Consulate General in San Francisco, who manned the British government’s booth at N+I. “Four hundred of them will be in place by June.”

There are expectations that there will be 84,000 separate 802.11b-based “hot spots” in the U.K. by 2006.

The British government is carefully watching what security standards emerge to protect wireless networks, such as 802.1x or other methods, but won’t try to dictate them, said Smith.

The advent of high-speed 802.11a wireless LANs, which are designed to operate in the 5-GHz range, is posing some controversy because both British and American military forces make use of radio frequencies in that range and there are worries 802.11a could cause interference to military communications.

“Both the U.S. and British military have filed a complaint at the International Telecommunication Union in Geneva about it,” said Smith. “There will be problems in that band in the U.K. and throughout the European Union.”

While it’s not clear how that controversy will play out, Smith noted that entrepreneurs should be aware that Europe has adopted what’s called the “3G” standard for next-generation mobile phone communications to support both voice and data in the 1900-MHz range at up to 384K bit/sec.

There are now five licensed 3G operators in the U.K., and 3G-based devices will eventually replace the current GSM mobile phone standard used in Europe. Smith pointed out that there are budding efforts to build equipment that makes it easy to switch back and forth between 3G and 802.11b. “Intersil and Symbian are active in this,” he noted.

While the U.K. and U.S. share a lot in common in terms of 802.11b wireless, there are some differences. For instance, Vivato Inc.’s 802.11b products transmit at a higher power concentration than allowed in the U.K. at present. “Vivato exceeds the EU standards for power, so their products really aren’t legal in the U.K. right now,” said Smith.

In an effort to understand these sorts of differences and work toward a possible resolution, the British government has organized a fact-finding mission this May. The U.K. Minister of State for e-commerce and competitiveness, Stephen Timms, will meet with several companies, including Intel Corp., Pronto Networks Inc., Mobility Network Systems Inc., Cometa Networks Inc., Vivato Inc. and Cranite Systems Inc. to get their input on 802.11b technology issues.

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