Windows Middle East electronic edition 19th July 2005

After offering the service free for a year, Etisalat has begun charging UAE users to log on at its ‘iZone’ hotspots. Business is business so this move isn’t a huge surprise, but if the UAE is to become a real digital economy - and end users become truly mobile – Etisalat should now concentrate on future technologies and give serious surfers what they really want…

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By  Matthew Wade Published  July 19, 2005

Surf into the future|~||~||~|According to a recent Paradigm Research study commissioned by Intel, a rather mindblowing 29% of notebook users in the UAE visit an internet 'hotspot' every day, making this method of logging onto the net more popular in the UAE than in both Saudi Arabia and Lebanon. Whilst exact figures aren’t available, I'd imagine many of these hotspots are Etisalat-sanctioned ‘iZones’. These were first launched last summer, but after a year of free trial access surfers now have to shell out cash for the privilege of using them. Prices range from roughly AED 6 per hour to AED 70 for 24 hours of access. All of which is fair enough, I guess. I mean, I’m from Yorkshire so I hate paying for anything (particularly if it used to be free) but I suppose you have to pay to log on at an internet café and Etisalat is indeed a profit-making organisation, so I’ll just have to swallow it. My worry now though is that Etisalat’s internet arm will spend too much time concentrating on rolling out iZones in order to ratchet up its revenues, instead of understanding that the popularity of hotspots in the UAE means that, yes, users would like to log on wirelessly, and thus using its huge profits to push the UAE head and shoulders above other countries in the region. How? By getting busy embracing WiMax. WiMax (which stands for Wireless Metropolitan Area Networks) is, wait for it, a ‘standards-based wireless technology for providing high-speed, last-mile broadband connectivity to homes, businesses and mobile wireless networks’. In plain English, it refers to the IEEE 802.16 family of standards. There are two versions – one for homes and businesses, one for mobile use. Supporting shared data transfer rates of up to 75Mbps, WiMax basically offers broadband access without requiring physical so-called ‘last-mile’ connection from end user to provider. As far as the mobile version of the technology is concerned, this is the real deal. Using this, you’d be able to log on to broadband-speed internet from home, at a café, in the car, wherever. The range of WiMax is almost citywide too, roughly 30 miles, which would for instance cover most of Dubai. Imagine that… waiting for a meeting? Log on. Bored at home? Log on. Having a juice at your local café? Log on. You get my drift. In April this year Intel’s Craig Barrett came to Dubai and at the same time announced the availability of Intel’s first verified WiMax kit. Aimed at equipment manufacturers and carriers across the globe, this is the first tangible step to countries getting on-board and starting national trials of the technology. According to Intel though, no countries in this region have signed up for trials yet. This fact is kind of sad and exciting at the same time. Either way though, it represents a great opportunity for Etisalat and the UAE to lead the region and really wow residents and visitors alike. The UAE’s residents are generally well educated, have disposable income, and have clearly displayed their love of logging on. If Etisalat and the government were now to get together and pitch into WiMax with the same kind of energy Etisalat expends buying up telecoms licences abroad, the UAE could really claim its digital crown. And of course it might save me some dirhams… ||**||

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