Vendors focus efforts on WLANs

Quebec-based Hartco Corp. is the latest to enter the race to wirelessly connect Canadians.

In mid-December, Hartco launched a new division called NetWireless to help Canada’s business community with the implementation of wireless data solutions and to build public wireless Internet access points. This launch coincided with similar announcements by Toronto-based WLAN provider Spotnik Mobile and Bell Canada Ltd.

Jeffrey Hart, an executive vice-president at Hartco Corp. in Ville d’Anjou, Que., said that the timing was right for NetWireless.

“Wireless networking is one of the quickest growing areas of IT right now. A core competency of Hartco’s corporate divisions is wireless networking, and NetWireless is a repository of this knowledge,” Hart said said.

He adds that NetWireless is focusing its hotspots for public wireless networking on places such as coffee chains, airports and malls, a strategy similar to that of both Bell and Spotnik.

Jeremy Depow, an analyst specializing in Canadian Telecom with Yankee Group (Canada) in Ottawa, said that wireless hotspots are going to be a hot topic for some time.

“There’s a lot of talk about Wi-Fi networks right now,” he said. Wi-Fi is the commonly used name for 802.11b.

“There’s a growing market for it – it’s still very small right now, but everybody expects that it will grow substantially over the next couple of years,” he said.

According to Depow it’s not surprising that companies such as Hartco and Spotnik are investing in the wireless arena, as it’s a good time to get a stake in the ground.

Mark Wolinsky, co-CEO of Spotnik said there are a few reasons why there is so much attention currently being paid to wireless solutions for both the enterprise and the public.

“The first is pure economics,” he explained. “From a supply side there are a lot of big manufacturers behind 802.11b, and what’s happening is that there’s a growing population enabled with a device. This is an inexpensive protocol and wireless transition medium and one that doesn’t cannibalize the voice business. This is driving a strong interest in this space.”

Hartco is also focusing on implementing secure wireless data solutions for the enterprise. Hart said that part of its appeal to the enterprise is its nationwide presence. Hartco is a franchiser of 150 computer integrators and retailers across Canada, operating under the names of MicroAge, Metafore, Microserv, Compucentre, CompuSmart and The Telephone Booth.

“Our solutions are complemented by a network of locations that can both install and support national and regional implementations,” Hart said.

Depow said that while wireless networks are still seen as luxury items by some enterprises, they are gaining traction.

“While most enterprises have scaled down their internal spending substantially for this kind of thing, it’s certainly on their screen. Most organizations are hoping to have this kind of thing in their own offices to help improve employee productivity,” he said.

According to Wolinsky, the hotspots are a natural evolution outside of the enterprise.

“Depending on the statistics you see, 50 per cent of Fortune 500 companies have a wireless network on at least one of their campuses, so there’s a strong deployment in the enterprise setting. There’s also a huge surge in demand for wireless gear in the home environment, and in education it’s been there for a while. This is just a migration into the public realm,” he said.

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