I'm at the NetEvents conference in Germany today. I've just heard John McHugh of HP's networking division opine on the future of networking and communications in 2010 and beyond. One of his points was that we should expect good, international and national WiFi hotspot roaming and interconnect. Not perfect, he said, but equivalent to cellular roaming or ATM machines - it usually works OK, albeit with the occasional glitch. Not an unreasonable assertion, although I wonder how well this works with roaming not just between major hotspot owners (T-Mobile, Boingo, BT OpenZone, The Cloud etc), but also with privately owned WiFi (residential & office) which is in my view much more important than public WiFi.
I've heard various software companies suggest solutions to WiFi roaming, and sometimes WiFi/cellular, in the past. However, there is always a missing element.
Any solution, especially if aimed at the massmarket, must default to the proposition "use free WiFi wherever possible, and paid-for hotspots only where it's absolutely essential".
And before I hear irate comments from hotspot operators - you only have yourselves to blame. Public WiFi pricing is ludicrous. £6 for an hour is typical in the UK, many European hotels charge €25 per day. Yes, it's cheaper in the US, but it's still overpriced. There's a great article on the WiFi rip-off in The Times, here .
What's the right price?
What's an acceptable price, given security, convenience, QoS and all the rest of the spurious benefits of "carrier-grade" WiFi
$1 per hour.
There is absolutely no justification for WiFi to be more expensive than Internet cafes / Internet shops. How can those places (and I've used them in more than 50 countries) uniformly offer good, fast Internet connectivity for $1-3 per hour? And they are paying for the PCs, LANs and all the rest of the infrastructure. With WiFi it's the customer's capex - their laptop or PDA.
So until we have sensible hotspot pricing, this is all just a tiny niche market for business travellers on expensives... and even then CIOs wince at the costs.
Last point. A message to any conference organisers out there.... You must include WiFi at events, especially wireless industry events. If I'm going to an expensive event I don't expect to pay an extra $10 for my cup of coffee in the breaks, and the same is true for local wireless connectivity. If the venue tries to rip you off (I was told of one conference that was going to be charged £2000 for 2 day's WiFi for delegates, by the hotel), then go somewhere else. Or use a 3G or WiMAX-backhauled portable access point and tell the venue owners & their gouging hotspot-management overlords to get stuffed.