Friday, April 01, 2005

Why It's Tough To Find WiFi In Japanese Hotels: It's Not Needed

These days, if you're traveling in the US, it's increasingly likely that the hotel you stay at will offer WiFi -- often free. It's certainly not universally available, but many hotels have realized that it's something of a requirement for many travelers (especially business ones). However, someone who recently traveled to Japan noticed that none of the hotels he visited had WiFi (or ethernet!). When he asked someone about it, he was told that no one really needed it, since most people had mobile data service from a wireless carrier -- and since that was plenty fast and ubiquitous, it made other forms of internet access much less interesting. This is the type of story, of course, that thrills the carriers. Of course, what the story leaves out is the pricing differential. WiFi is often free. In many places, mobile broadband data services are insanely pricey. However, it does show how a decent speed and ubiquity when done right (a big if) certainly can trump higher speeds and hotspots going forward.

We're already seeing this in the US among people who are using EV-DO wireless broadband access where it's available -- and claim it's rid them of the need to use WiFi. The two technologies certainly can co-exist for quite some time. There are a variety of issues (technology, business models, interference, capacity, etc.) as to why one technology is unlikely to completely obsolete the other -- but the models will start to converge, and that's going to leave quite a few companies without much of a business model at all.