UK telecoms provider and owner of the Demon brand, Thus, has issued an extraordinary outburst against Wi-Fi, saying it “should come with a government health warning”.
The company, which has no discernible connection to the Wi-Fi industry, blustered that the technology was “inherently flawed,” listing a series of problems – all of which are well-known and have solutions on the way, or are exaggerated.
“There are no guarantees [that the technology] will deliver bandwidth consistently,“ said Steve Kennedy, head of product futures at Thus. “In addition, it is emerging into a strict regulatory environment that could seriously hamper its roll out.”
One of Kennedy’s criticisms is the problems caused by other applications in the 2.4GHz band used by 802.11b and 802.11g, means that Wi-Fi cannot be guaranteed, he says: "There are no guarantees that a WLAN will work in a built-up area,” he said. “If it does work, the usable bandwidth may be very low as all the other devices are interfering with it. A business trying to connect staff to the LAN, or to another building, may find that at certain times of the day the WLAN will not provide any bandwidth. This means it is impossible to offer Quality of Service guarantees."
Wi-Fi users will know this problem but also know that well-designed networks can minimise it. Also products are building in more techniques to help (such as Trapeze’s Ringmaster design and management product). “I do believe that quality of service will be solved,” said market analyst Richard Webb of Infonetics. “Lots of vendors are working on it and it is necessary for voice on WLAN.”
Security is another gripe for Kennedy, citing the well-known flaws in WEP encryption and the fact that many users don’t bother to turn it on. ”Security is not great but it is getting better,” said Webb. “It will be as good as wired security in time.” For both the security issues Kennedy mentions, there are obvious answers – make sure that encryption (and access control) is turned on and add your own encryption, for instance by running a VPN over the WLAN.
It is in his last point that Kennedy launches completely into clouds of fear, uncertainty and doubt (FUD). Now governance of the 2.4GHz band is under the Communications Act, commercial services on that band will be brought into line with other services he says, and have to comply with the RIP and Data Protection Acts, keeping logs of activity and billing records for seven years.
Any service provider who expected Wi-Fi services to be magically exempt from these Acts would be really dim and we hope Kennedy is not that.
Which leaves us wondering why he should be coming out with such a statement at this point. There is no mention of Wi-Fi on Thus’ website (and the only connection we could find on the Web was Thus subsidiary Demon Internet providing free Wi-Fi at the Euroforum Wi-Fi congress in Amsterdam in January.
The statement may be an attempt to explain why Thus is lagging behind other providers (Swisscom’s Eurospot network is not held back by the issues he raises). But it could equally turn out to be an embarrassing set of remarks to retract, if Thus does come out with a Wi-Fi service in future. As head of product futures, Kennedy is probably aware of this.