Despite the hype, PWLANs are taking off much more slowly in the West than the East. For example, even though the UK is slightly richer and more populous than South Korea, Korea Telecom will have sixty times as many public wLAN points as BT by December. There are many reasons why – but the key ones are government, operator and public support.
By December 31, Korea Telecom plans to have over 25,000 public wLAN access points.
With 5,000 PWLAN access points, South Korea’s Korea Telecom already has 1,000 more access points than British Telecom’s three-year best-case goal. By the end of this year, KT plans 25,000 – more than sixty times BT’s current 400. BT claims to have 30% of the UK market – so the total size is less than 1,500 PWLAN access points.
This may seem baffling. The UK has 20% more citizens and a higher average wage than South Korea. BT has partnered with the likes of Cisco and Motorola to develop PWLAN products. And with one of the largest airports in the world, domestic and foreign business travel are at an all-time high – indicating a strong cultural opportunity for uptake.
There are three key reasons why this hasn’t become a reality. First, South Korea’s government is an avid supporter of PWLANs, citing their key strategic importance for the nation in moving forward. Similar support for fixed-line broadband has driven South Korea to the forefront of the world’s broadband penetration rates. In contrast, the UK government has only been mildly supportive.
The story among operators is similar. KT is working closely with the government to push out PWLANs; it believes that PWLANs provide a cost-effective means of filling gaps in DSL coverage. It is also selling access as a premium service to existing DSL subscribers, while UK operators have been slow to push PWLAN services partly for fear of cannibalizing 3G revenues.
A final difference is culture: South Koreans have been more open to exploring PWLAN opportunities. While most UK access points are currently focused on travelers, South Korea also targets laptop owners of all types – with installations in office blocks, university campuses, restaurants and cafes.
Overall, while all elements are coming together in South Korea to bring PWLANs to the mainstream, the UK has been slower in unifying its government, operator and cultural agendas. Until these factors coalesce, the UK will remain staunchly a part of the wired, wired west.
Related research: Datamonitor, Wireless LANs – no strings attached? (BFTC0714) – plus Datamonitor, Public wLANs (expected Q2 2003)
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