Tue, 06 Apr 2004


For The Jakarta Post, April 06, 2004-04-02

More effort needed to boost hotspots

Using e-mail in lieu of the mobile telephone to communicate with family members, friends, colleagues and clients has lowered the cost of staying in touch.

Now, the good news is that getting online is becoming easier than ever. Just over a year ago, being able to sit down in a restaurant and download our latest e-mail messages was not something that we would have expected to be able to do here in Jakarta.

We might have heard of the technology called wireless fidelity (Wi-Fi), or its technical specification, 802.11x, but most of us would still regard it as something that was only available abroad.

Today, as if to prove that at least Jakarta is not far behind its fellow Asian capital cities, we now have a number of locations in this city where we can do just that.

A report by Tantri Juliandini that appeared in this paper early last month listed the hotspots where we can connect to the Internet without having to plug in a LAN cable.

Some of the hotspots offer Internet access for free, while others don't. Free or not, at any rate now people with a Wi-Fi enabled notebook or PDA have more flexibility in terms of where they can work -- here or in any other big city.

In the U.S. and other parts of the world, McDonalds has joined Starbucks in offering hotspot services. In Taiwan, as reported recently by The Taipei Times, a local cafe chain named Zhen Quo has been joined by Dante, another local coffee shop chain, in providing hotspots at their outlets.

While pictures of professionally attired persons sitting with their notebooks open are daily features of lifestyle magazines, in reality we still see very few people actually working on their notebooks in public places in Jakarta.

One possible reason is that the concept of worker mobility is still not very common here. Another likely reason is, of course, safety and security. If people see you working on your expensive notebook, there is a chance they will wait for the right moment to snatch it from you.

But things are definitely changing. It is no longer unusual now for people to show their PowerPoint presentations to clients or potential customers during lunch in coffee shops or malls.

Last year, Intel Indonesia, CBN, Acer Indonesia, Microsoft Indonesia, Cisco Systems, Jaring Semesta Infosolusi (Polaris|NET) and Elexmedia Komputindo -- seven leading players in their respective sectors -- formed the Indonesian Wi-Fi Consortium (IWC), whose main task is to promote hotspots in Indonesia. They plan to set up more hotspots around the country.

As of today, CBN has three hotspots in Jakarta -- Coffee Club at Senayan Plaza, Mr. Bean Coffee at Cilandak Town Square and Lamoda Cafe at Plaza Indonesia. The speed is 64 Kbps both for download and upload, and the service is free for the subscribers of this Internet service provider.

Needless to say, the number of hotspot users would grow far more rapidly if the service were free. As reported by The Register (www.theregister.co.uk), AMD -- the computer chip maker that competes with Intel -- announced last month that it would launch its own hotspot promotion program. The company will provide the necessary infrastructure for the hotspots, but the service will be completely free for users.

What do the independent cafes and other venues get from providing the free service? AMD promises that it will help them with the marketing of their businesses. AMD will also brand the free service using the logo "AMD Hotspots".

Thus, it will be a win-win marketing effort, while for the users nothing is better than free access to the Internet as they bite into their fresh-from-the-oven croissants.

All over the world, hotspots are appearing at airports, hotels and convention centers. They will soon be available on long-haul flights, as international airlines are working together with Boeing's Connexion to install wireless LAN in their aircraft.

Lufthansa passengers, for example, will be able to access their e-mail while flying next month. Hotspots are also becoming available on executive trains and cruise ships in Europe.

What is needed now is a more concerted effort to boost the awareness of hotspot availability so that we can see more competition in the field -- and consequently lower prices for the end users. -- Zatni Arbi