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Gartner: Business travellers snubbing Wi-Fi

Survey: Wi-Fi operators claim things are picking up, but analysts tell a different tale

Mobile workers aren't very interested in using Wi-Fi hot spots, according to research published by Gartner on Tuesday.

The analyst firm found that only one quarter of business travellers use public access wireless networks in places such as hotels, airports or aeroplanes. 2,000 business travellers in the United States and the UK were interviewed for the survey.

The Wi-Fi industry has targeted its services at the business community by pitching the advantages of surfing the Internet and accessing corporate applications such as email while out of the office. However, many of the executives interviewed said Wi-Fi was too expensive and that it can be difficult to get the cost of accessing a hot spot reimbursed as a business expense, according to Gartner.

In-flight Wi-Fi services such as Boeing's Connexion have received considerable publicity, but Gartner found that travellers were more interested in getting increased legroom and better entertainment when flying.

"While Wi-Fi has come a long way, our survey shows that many business travellers remain uncertain as to why they should use Wi-Fi, what equipment they need, how they can connect and what they will be charged," said Delia MacMillan, research vice-president at Gartner. "If Wi-Fi providers really want to attract new customers they must convince both end users and organisations of its benefits."

Wi-Fi operators are typically reluctant to reveal how many people use their services. Chris Clark, chief executive of BT Openzone, told ZDNet UK last month that Openzone's customer base had doubled in the last six months. However, he refused say how many customers Openzone actually has.

Gartner recommended that companies who want their staff to use public wireless networks should develop policies for Wi-Fi use, educate them about security and billing issues, and evaluate alternatives such as 3G.