In clear defiance of the self-appointed harbingers of doom, companies continue to rapidly expand Britain's Wi-Fi network.
Apparently unaware that numerous analysts and journalists have breathlessly predicted the death of public wireless, Inspired Broadcast Networks this week announced a deal with payphone company NWP Spectrum that will see it open up a further 7,000 sites to wireless Internet access.
The Cloud, as Inspired's network is known, already has 1,800 hotspots up and working in the UK, the vast majority in pubs thanks to a deal with Leisure Link (also a part of Inspired). The new deal will see it stick wireless equipment in NWP's phones located in motorway service stations, railway stations, airports, hotels, shops and public squares - including Leicester Square.
This all makes its network more attractive to business users. "Pubs are an excellent location for Wi-Fi use for both business and entertainment," it explains, adding that pubs are the business lunch destination of choice, excellent places to work and have meetings - big tables, good service, food and drinks.
Now, with large numbers of transport locations covered - plane, train, automobile - it is swiftly reaching the stage where a business user will be able to work in most places while away from the office using simple wireless technology.
Once the business market - and its willingness to part with higher fees for the convenience - is captured, "phase II" of The Cloud's plan is to go after the consumer with shops and public buildings and spaces connected up.
The Cloud currently sells access to its network through pay-as-you-go vouchers at £6-an-hour. However, its plan is just to offer access through third-party service providers and take a cut. Currently it has only signed up with BT Openzone, which charges £15 for a 24-hour pass and then a variety of tariffs up to £85 a month for unlimited use.
You will note that all these options are rather expensive. They are also far higher than US prices. However when salesmen and top execs are spending hundreds a month travelling - much of the time without a connection to a company intranet or email - another £85 clearly makes a lot of sense if it can speed up a deal.
Nevertheless the cost of the networks have led many to proclaim their death, mostly using the word "bubble". Those that haven't enthusiastically embraced their own foresight have rather naively hailed the practice of a few Wi-Fi advocates to offer free access to their own hotspots as the way forward (again with the implication that paid-for wireless networks are a dead duck).
However, when the first passenger steam train went 12 miles from Stockton to Darlington in 1825, you would have been hard pushed to find people predicting the imminent failure of the railways. "But I live in York. This railway is a sham." When they built the first underground station, where exactly did people intend to go?
The fact is that while wireless networks are costly at the moment, they will happen simply because they are so enormously useful. Portable computers are becoming more and more popular and people are growing used to fast data exchange. Receiving, amending and resending documents through email, plus checking people's schedules and tracking down vital information online, have all become vital to modern business and general life. It is not hard to see where Wi-Fi networks might come in.
Despite the initial financial outlay, many companies will take the risk on building a network because if they pull it off, a wealth of riches await. The same was true for the construction of railways in the UK - many private companies piled in to build the tracks, connect Britain and reap the rewards. Many of them went bust, but no one ever questioned that we would get a network at the end of it.
The Cloud may go bust - although it seems unlikely at the moment - but if it does, someone else will pick up the infrastructure at a cheap price and continue running.
In that sense, this obsession with what is the correct charging model is rather irrelevant (except for the companies that are actually charging). Everyone in the market has a lot to gain by sharing networks - something that the mobile phone companies have learnt and perfected - so it would seem logical that the same approach comes about with Wi-Fi.
Will you pay a monthly fee, or an annual subscription, or even a per-second charge? Who knows? Who cares? Mobiles work per-minute; broadband works per month. Wi-Fi may fit one of those or not.
With the Cloud/NWP deal, NWP's chief exec explained it like this: "We're now re-investing in enabling our estate to benefit from digital services... Working with The Cloud ensures that our locations will be accessible to end users from multiple service providers, as well as on a pay as you go basis." It is simply keeping its phone points up to date. It may not even be charging The Cloud for access to its property.
Meanwhile The Cloud grows ever closer to the point where it is practical for people other than travelling professionals to sign up because they are never that far from a hotspot they can use. And with more punters, the price comes down, and more punters sign up.
The economics isn't that hard after all.
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