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Amsterdam Start-Up to Offer WiFi Internet Citywide
Mon Aug 30, 2004 10:37 AM ET

By Lucas van Grinsven, European Technology Correspondent

AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - Amsterdam's Web surfers could soon be liberated from their home computers and Internet cafes, with plans by a start-up firm to make their city the first European capital where laptops can hook up anywhere to the Web.

HotSpot Amsterdam launched a wireless computer network on Monday with a supercharged version of the WiFi technology that is used to turn homes, airports, hotels and cafes into Web-connected "hot spots."

The first seven base stations are up and running, connecting historic areas that date back to the 13th century, while the entire city center will be covered by 40 to 60 antennas within three months, HotSpot Amsterdam founder Carl Harper said.

That network would be able to support several thousand users, he said.

"We'll go on to cover all of Amsterdam with 125 base stations. The idea is to prove to the big boys that it can be done, and that consumers can live with a mobile phone and mobile Internet. The landline is dead," he said. Many computer makers build WiFi chips and access cards into their products as a standard feature.

Mobile phone makers like Nokia (NOK1V.HE: Quote, Profile, Research) have also started to add WiFi to some of their handset models, allowing much faster Internet access than would be possible with the standard GPRS and UMTS connections offered by mobile phone operators. HotSpot Amsterdam charges 4.95 euros ($5.98) a day or 14.95 euros a month for a connection of 256 kilobits per second, equivalent in price and speed to a low-end home broadband connection, while 24.95 euros a month will buy a connection twice that fast.

That undercuts fees charged by bigger suppliers such as Dutch telecommunications carrier KPN (KPN.AS: Quote, Profile, Research) , which sells one hour of WiFi access for 5 euros and one month for 30 euros. And the dozen or so hotspots offered by KPN in Amsterdam have a range of just a few hundred meters each.

SUPERCHARGED HOT SPOTS

Although WiFi hot spots have traditionally covered only a small area -- a home, cafe, hotel room or reception area -- technology companies are developing a more powerful version that works with fewer base stations and covers much larger areas.

In addition, radio base stations can now be linked to each other in a loop network, without separate connections to the Internet, making it much easier and cheaper to build a network.

HotSpot Amsterdam estimates it will invest around 200,000 euros for the initial network covering Amsterdam's city center and a handful of surrounding areas.

The company's founders said their service was cheap enough that residents could choose a WiFi subscription in place of a fixed-line broadband connection from a cable TV company or from a provider of digital subscriber line services, which run through normal copper phone lines.

"The users we're aiming at are expatriates, students and people who share accommodation. They need Internet access, but are not able to install fixed-line broadband, or they do not want it for the minimum period of a year," Harper said.

Other target groups include tourists and business travelers.

The Finnish town of Mantsala has an 11 square-kilometer WiFi network, available to the public and schools, while New York plans to build a city-wide WiFi network.

The Port of Amsterdam installed a WiFi network three months ago, covering its 30 square kilometers, but that network is not for public use.


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