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Wed 26 May 2004 04:00 AM

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Costa taps into Bahraini mobility drive with Wi-Fi while Batelco leads the region with its ambitious and wide ranging hot spot roll-out.

|~|costa_m.jpg|~|“Bahrain is a country with a high internet penetration and the hot spots allow users to continue their business, learning and fun surfing.“ Donya Hassan Al-Ansari - Batelco|~|Batelco, Bahrain’s telecommunications provider, has unveiled a series of hot spots and Wi-Fi services for the Bahraini general public. The first phase of the project was timed to coincide with the recent Grand Prix and it has been expanded to include wireless networks in 16 venues around the country, including the airport, Costa coffee shops and a number of five star hotels.

The Wi-Fi hot spot is an integral part of Batelco’s long-term strategy to drive revenues and expand its coverage of the country. Although Bahrain already has a high internet penetration compared to many other GCC countries — 19.1% versus Saudi Arabia’s 6.7% — the PTT hopes existing users can be tempted to go wireless and non-internet users will now make use of the internet.

Furthermore, Batelco has ambitions to create an access anywhere lifestyle and a more productive society in the Kingdom, as it argues that Wi-Fi turns waiting time into working time and helps businesses to become more efficient. “Using wireless hot spots has become trendy in Bahrain and we’re determined to keep up with public demand for this service,” says Donya Hassan Al-Ansari, product marketing manager Internet and Messaging Services, Batelco.

The telco’s Wi-Fi service is designed to provide Bahrani users with access to internet services through hot spots using wireless enabled notebooks, PDAs and Tablet PCs. It is integrated with prepaid cards, vouchers, credit cards, Short Message Service (SMS) and a one time password (OTP). Additionally, existing Batelco account holders will be able to use the hot spots and charge directly to their existing phone bills.

While wireless internet access in a pleasing environment is attractive, it has typically been a pricey purchase. Batelco has addressed this issue by developing a wide range of payment options. For example, the PTT has provided outlets with pre-paid cards, costing 3BD for one hour and 5BD for two hours. A 10BD pre-paid card offering 24-hour access is also in the pipeline for travelling businessmen.

Initially the service will be accessible through pre-paid cards although post-paid cards are also on Batelco’s product roadmap. Likewise the company plans to introduce global Wi-Fi roaming for business customers, so they can use the same account in different countries.

“Wi-Fi is positioned as a premium internet service by most providers globally. Even in Europe, where internet prices are much lower than the Middle East, the Wi-Fi service price is high. However, Batelco’s Wi-Fi pre-paid tariffs are competitive when compared to international providers,” says Al-Ansari.“Although the Wi-Fi service is offered to all customers, we believe that businessmen, travellers and customers with a mobile lifestyle will benefit the most from the service,” she adds.

Batelco’s hot spots are based on a primarily HP solution. The vendor has also assisted in site surveys and provided equipment such as Proliant blade servers, thin client desktops, iPaqs, tablet PCs, Procurve switches and access points. The computing giant also worked with Batelco to develop its more user-friendly payment options that cater for a variety of establishments, like hotels, and a range of customers, such as those with mobile phones and credit cards.“We were consulted with respect to the Batelco solution and worked with the provider on ways to enhance it,” says Ala’a Al Shimy, network solutions group (NSG) practice manager, HP Middle East.

Both HP and Batelco agreed that the biggest challenge during the Wi-Fi project was getting the first stage of the solution in place for the start of the Bahrain Grand Prix. “The event opened on April 4 and we had to be ready on April 2,” says Al Shimy. “We had 28 days to fit the hot spots with applications, network infrastructure and hardware components, with extra pressure added because it was timed to coincide with such a high profile event. But we managed to deliver before time, in 25 days,” he adds.

The Wi-Fi network is managed by HP’s OpenView application, which features remote management. This means companies with hot spots in multiple outlets don’t have to manage the implementation from each location.

The software has also been customised to incorporate third party applications, such as an Aptilo application that takes care of hot spot management, billing and access control.The latest success in Batelco’s wave of Wi-Fi roll-outs is with Costa coffee, which has introduced hot spots in its coffee shops in the Al Seef mall and the Adliya area of Bahrain. The company is looking to use Wi-Fi as a value added service to attract more customers to the cafes and enhance the Costa brand.

“The beauty of the system is that it’s not heavy,” says Raju Nair, general marketing manager of the Jawal Business Group, which runs Costa coffee shops in Bahrain. “The access points and other hardware sit in the back room and don’t ruin the ambience of the café, which is crucial. You can catch up with work and also enjoy the pleasant atmosphere of the coffee shop. The technology doesn’t dominate like in a cyber café,” he explains.

Costa has had some positive feedback from customers, with users particularly pleased with the 2Mbits/s speed of the service. That said, users have also expressed concerns about the price of the service, suggesting that prices may have to drop to encourage the general public to take up the service in large numbers.

“We have only had the hot spot for one month and we can’t say that it’s been a big success yet,” says Nair. “We will experiment with it for two months, track how people are using it and then evaluate the business model,” he adds.

Costa coffee has very definite ideas about how it wants to present its hot spots, although service provider Batelco is initially taking on most of the marketing responsibility. Batelco is emphasising the business benefits of the service in its advertising whereas Costa favours a more inclusive, less technical approach. For example, the point of sale (POS) material supplied by the PTT uses technical language and as such appeals more to technically astute business users than the general public.

“It’s better to market the service as the gateway to the rest of the world, rather than a place to carry on your office work,” argues Nair. “We feel the key to the success of hot spots is to get the young into this service and for this to happen, it needs better-focused advertising and lower pricing,” he adds.The Costa implementation follows earlier wireless successes by Batelco in the Kingdom. These include hot spots at the international airport and Wi-Fi lounges at the Crowne Plaza and Gulf hotels.||**||

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