Matt Gould at Megabeam dropped ma a note to remind me that WiFi is not an American thing. Megabeam is building a pan-European wireless hotspot network targeting business travelers at airports, hotels, train stations, and convention centers. Hotspots are up and running in both Milan and Rome airports and in key European business centers including London, Milan, Rome, Munich, Zurich and Amsterdam. The service will soon be available at 12 European airports with a total of 65 hotspots live by the end of the year.
Matt and I both agree that the free lunch model is not mutual exclusive to commercial rollout of Wireless LAN services. I believe there will be many models evolving over the next couple of years. There will be free access provided by people who just want to provide it for various reasons. It might be a neighborhood like Ruby Ranch that takes things into their own hands. It might be a public service such is provided by a community. It might be someone who has a wireless access point at their home or business and they intentionally make it available to anyone within range. FreeAP now lists 178 of these. It may be an advertiser supported like NewburyOpen.net. And it might be various providers like Megabeam who will target a particular market and provide seamless roaming across multiple hotspot locations. There may be multiple classes of service that develop based on bandwidth priority — more expensive plans offering priority bandwidth and lower priced plans offering the bandwidth that is left. There is plenty of room for service differentiation. The market will sort out the winners and losers as it does so well, but there is no doubt that WiFi is going to one of the next really big things.