Wi-Fi hot spot access should cost about half as much as it currently does, according to an executive of a company that supplies providers such as BT and O2 with hot spot directory services.
Mark Carter, the business development director of Connect Spot, told ZDNet UK on Friday that pre-pay access — which continues to dominate the market due to users wanting to use the nearest hot spot regardless of the operator — should be priced at between £2-£3 per hour rather than the current £5-£6.
"Corporate customers want effective communications when they can get it at a price they can justify," Carter said. He added that "effective bundling" in terms of convergence was still a way off, but cited BT's Fusion service as a step in that direction.
Carter suggested that the Wi-Fi market was reaching maturity, as providers began to consolidate, footprints began to cross over and companies increasingly turned to installing wireless networks with free "touchdown" points — outside the company firewall — for visitors and contractors.
Analyst James Enck of Daiwa Securities agreed that pricing was too high, and told ZDNet UK that Europe was lagging behind the US, where Wi-Fi is now "pretty much an amenity that you expect to be thrown in for free".
"The [telecommunications companies] got in early and decided to impose this payment model and people have come to expect that, but I think it should change," Enck said on Friday.
Another analyst, Matt Yardley of Analysys Consulting, told ZDNet UK that municipal Wi-Fi projects such as that currently underway in Norwich could have an impact on the market as people begin to expect cheaper or free connectivity.
Yardley also confirmed that pricing would be affected by convergence, which increasingly involves a Wi-Fi access element, whether domestic or corporate.
A spokesperson for BT Openzone — a major provider of hot spots in the UK, which charges £6 per hour for access — said his company's service was "priced extremely competitively in the market" and represented "excellent value". He pointed out that BT recently offered its broadband and mobile customers wireless connectivity for £5 a month, and occasional users from 20p per minute.
Connect Spot supplies BT Homezone with payment gateways and distributes the Hotspot Selector application — which incorporates an offline directory service as well as multi-provider credentials "wallet" — to operators such as O2 and T-mobile as a "white label" product, and also via download. It has recently been making a play for the corporate WLAN market.