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Last Updated: Friday, 19 March, 2004, 10:38 GMT
Wireless internet stumbles ahead
BT launches wi-fi in McDonald's
BT is offering wireless net with fries
The spread of wi-fi is being hampered by increasing complex and incompatible products, an industry body promoting the technology has said.

The Wi-Fi Alliance said 22% of new wireless devices it tested did not work properly on the first attempt.

The group lobbies for a common standard to make it as easy as possible for people to surf the web wirelessly.

A recent Consumers' Association survey in the UK found that many people were put off by the complexity of wi-fi.

Just connect

Wireless technology uses short-range radio signals to connect computers to each other or the internet.

Man pulling pint in pub
Will people use hotspots in pubs?
But the growing popularity of the technology both at work and in the home is causing problems of its own.

"As equipment becomes more advanced, we're actually seeing interoperability failures go up," said Brian Grimm, marketing director for the Wi-Fi Alliance.

The group runs a certification programme to try to ensure that different wi-fi products work seamlessly with each other.

"Our whole incentive is just to make the industry grow," said Mr Grimm at the Cebit technology fair in Hanover, Germany.

Since 2000, the alliance has certified some 1,100 wireless devices.

Surf with a pint

So-called wi-fi hotspots are springing up everywhere. There are between 25,000 and 30,000 hotspots worldwide according to the industry group.

The industry has veered between being very hyped to being heavily criticised and the truth probably lies somewhere in between
Ian Fogg, Jupiter analyst
The UK is home to around 3,500 hotspots, a large proportion of the estimated 8,000 across Europe. Providers are taking a gamble on some of the locations for their wi-fi networks, offering access in coffee bars and pubs.

"This could reflect the fact that the UK is a pub society," said Evelyn Wiggers, an analyst with research firm IDC.

BT, one of the UK's biggest providers of hotspots has even installed wi-fi internet access in McDonald's outlets across the country.

Whether providers can make long term money out of such hotspots remains to be seen.

"The industry has veered between being very hyped to being heavily criticised and the truth probably lies somewhere in between," said Jupiter analyst Ian Fogg.

Worries about who would actually use wireless networks seem unfounded. Research firm Gartner has predicted that users worldwide will triple to a total of 30 million this year.

The hotspots are mainly used by business people to check their e-mail, but a lack of roaming agreements between firms means people currently have to pay each time they use a hotspot.

With prices ranging between 3 to 10 euros per session, this can be an expensive business.

Hotels are proving the most popular places for hotspots. According to a survey from research firm Jupiter, around 44% of hotspot sessions take part in hotels compared to just 20% in cafes and bars.

Complex assembly

While cities are getting the wireless bug, some individuals are struggling to understand the technology.

Man doing diy
Flat-pack furniture easier to assemble than wi-fi
The Consumers' Association conducted a survey last month and found that wireless computing is baffling a lot of consumers.

Computing Which? tested 12 different wireless products and found that some would not talk to each other, others were far too complicated to set up and one device could not be tested at all due to technical problems.

"Setting up a wireless network is more complex than assembling flat-packed furniture - it shouldn't be," said Jessica Ross, editor of Computing Which?

"Manufacturers need to do more to ensure their products are easily installed and are interoperable with other wi-fi networking equipment," she concluded.

A wireless network and wi-fi laptop both made it into Stuff's magazine's top 10 must-have gadgets for 2004, suggesting the technology is slowly moving from the preserve of tech-savvy geeks to a wider audience.

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