8/05/2007

CONVERGING ON TE PAPA

The Convergence 07 conference was held at Te Papa museum in Wellington yesterday and explored some interesting issues, such as the state of the broadband market and the role wireless technolgies like mesh Wi-Fi and WiMax have to play in improving broadband access.

I was looking forward to the closing panel discussion featuring communications minister David Cunliffe, but was dismayed to find that he had to pull out at the last minute. What was even worse was that the event's host, Clemenger's Michael Greig tapped me at the last minute to take Cunliffe's place! I did my best to try and sound coherent, but others on the panel such as Wellington entrepreneur Rod Drury did a very good job of articulating the pressing issues. Many interesting things came out of yesterday's conference. Here are a few things that caught my interest:

TOMIZONE AND DIY HOTSPOTS

- Steve Simms (former head of Reaach Wireless) could be onto a winner with his new venture Tomizone, which allows people to use their broadband connection and a wi-fi router to become a wireless hotspot reseller, delivering wireless access to neighbours, customers or visitors.

I was initially skeptical of the venture, which offers wireless access at US$3 a day of which the wireless hotspot owner receives 50 per cent of the revenue. Weekly deals are offered from the equivalent of US$15. Tomizone handles all the billing and account management for the service and accrues your cut of the revenue, which can be removed to your bank account once you've hit US$30 in revenue.

The currency is in US dollars because Simms is going global with Tomizone, which needs to gain critical mass quickly to be really effective. The more I think about it, the better Tomizone sounds as a best-efforts network based on standardised technology that offers a far cheaper alternative to current commercial hotsopt ventures. I still have plenty of questions: for instance, what liability do hotstop operators have for the content going through their connections? How will Tomizone manage the quality of its network of hotspot resellers?

Bruce Simpson at Aardvark has some interesting views on Tomizone - namely that the business model would be a hell of a lot more compelling if Tomizone's aim was to become a VoIP telephony network.

Simms responds to Bruce's comments on the Tomizone blog:

"In Bruce's article, he mentions that the real money is in Mobile VoIP using Wi-Fi as the coverage mechanism. Although in theory this will work nicely, the reality is quite a bit different when you look at the scarcity of the ubiquitous interconnected Wi-Fi network."

Who knows if the model will take off. Tomizone has Stephen Tindall's backing and D-link is onboard as a hardware partner, even shipping routers with Tomizone's firmware installed. I'll certainly be watching Tomizone's progress closely.

ALCATEL LUCENT DOESN'T MUCH LIKE WI-FI

Alcatel Lucent's Mike Iandolo was at odds with the local proponents of Wi-Fi networks over the viability of Wi-Fi for delivering widespread network connectivity. Iandolo's argument boils down to this:
- Because Wi-Fi relies on licence-free spectrum, it's quality of service cannot be managed and the customer experience therefore cannot match those of 3G mobile broadband services.
-The mobile network is better at delivering reliable, fast wireless data services that Wi-Fi networks and that the cost differential between the technologies is not as great as one would expect.
- Wi-Fi services are only sustainable when they operate in tandem with a supporting business model eg: Starbucks offering free or cheap wi-fi to get people through the door and encourage them to linger and buy more coffee and cake.

The alternative view, as articulated by the likes of Martyn Levy at RoamAD and Steve Simms asserts that:

- Mobile broadband services are prohibitively expensive and people are willing to settle for best-efforts Wi-Fi services to receive more affordable internet connectivity.
- Wi-Fi mesh networks can be used to cover large areas effectively and reliably much more cheaply than using moble-based architectures.
- The proliferation of Wi-Fi equipment means Wi-Fi is one of the most commonly accepted standards and has been cheaply integrated into a wide range of computers, phones and consumer electronics, giving it an edge on mobile-based services.

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