Wi-Fi gaining foothold in the Philippines

Less than two years after its commercial rollout, wireless fidelity, or Wi-Fi, has already made a “breakthrough” in the local computing market, industry players agreed.

Wi-Fi allows wireless access to the Internet via the 2.4 GHz frequency band. Utilizing the 802.11b protocol, users with Wi-Fi-enabled devices can seamlessly connect to the Net through access points called “hotspots.”

“Although mobile computing has not yet reached the level that the mobile phone industry has been enjoying, it has already broken through the ‘non-techie’ side of the consumer market,” said Intel Philippines country manager Ricky Banaag. Intel created the Centrino mobile technology, a processor-chipset-wireless local area network (WLAN) notebook solution that powers wireless computing.

Banaag noted that establishments have now begun to recognize Wi-Fi as a “must-have” service that customers want and demand. In fact, coffee shops, resorts and high-end malls have already invested in the installation of wireless access points within their sites, he said.

At present, there are around 150 Wi-Fi access zones in the country. These hotspots were mostly rolled out by telecommunications players Philippine Long Distance Telephone Company (PLDT) and Globe Telecom Inc. through their respective Internet subsidiaries ePLDT and Innove Communications Inc.

Airborne Access, a Wi-Fi access company under ePLDT, accounts for the deployment of 77 sites across the country, specifically in Manila, Cebu, Baguio, La Union and Boracay. There are about 20 other ePLDT-connected sites located in various areas such as coffee shops.

On the other hand, GlobeQUEST, the corporate business group of Innove, is targeting to have 50 hotspots by the end of the year in Metro Manila, specifically in Makati, Alabang, Pasig, Greenhills, Quezon City and Mandaluyong, and in the regions, notably in Baguio, Pampanga, Cavite, Cebu and Davao.

The initial rollout of Wi-Fi hotspots was focused on “high transient or foreigner traffic” areas like airports. Today’s hotspot rollouts, however, are mostly concentrated in high-end coffee outlets such as Seattle’s Best and Starbucks, and other mid- to high-end establishments, noted Harvey Libarnes, ePLDT assistant vice president for product development and management.

Emerging Trends

“Industry players have observed that the Wi-Fi ecosystem in the country is vibrant. Businesses have been looking into providing wireless connectivity in their offices. As the corporate market demands real-time information to make better and more informed decisions, there will be a continuous uptake (not only) of Centrino (but of mobile computing as a whole),” Banaag told Computerworld Philippines, citing a report recently released by technology research house Gartner Inc. which reflected this emerging local trend.

The report shows that notebook sales received a boost from the healthy demand for mobile computers, mainly laptops, grew 26.1 per cent from year-ago levels.

According to Information technology research firm IDC Ltd., 36 per cent of enterprises worldwide provide wireless connectivity to their employees. Within another 12 months, another 28 per cent of enterprises are going to offer wireless connectivity to their employees. IDC estimates that per cent of today’s workforce is mobile. By 2006, that number is expected to reach 66 per cent.

At Intel, approximately 70 per cent of its 80,000 employees are equipped with notebooks, Banaag disclosed. Around 40,000 of these employees use their notebooks to connect wirelessly to the Internet.

“Migration to mobile is expected to be significant in the Asia-Pacific region. Local adoption is actually rising and will continue to do so as more and more hotspots are established across the country and prices of Centrino notebooks become more affordable,” the Intel executive said.

Locally, the education sector has been at the forefront of efforts to push mobile computing. Just recently, two universities — De La Salle University and the University of Asia and the Pacific — were “unwired” through Intel’s Mobile Initiative for Learning program. This program aims to help tertiary institutions across the Asia-Pacific region set up their own mobile infrastructure and accelerate collaborative learning through the deployment of mobile technologies.

Intel also recently “unwired” President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s Executive Office, the Kalayaan Hall, and the Executive Guest House at the Malaca

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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