Towards a wireless Isle of Man

Towards a wireless Isle of ManA few weeks back I came across a wi-fi hotspot in the departure lounge of the Isle of Man Airport - useful too, as the flight I was supposed to be catching was cancelled due to technical problems. The hotspot was the first I'd heard of on the island and at the time I couldn't find out much about it, except for the fact that it was part of a trial, and as such would be running as a free service. It was only tonight that I discovered more about the wi-fi trials, with another public area hotspot already being in operation and others on the way this year. The scheme is part of the Isle of Man Government's e-business strategy to promote the island to the wider business community whilst also making services more accessible to Manx residents.

These public hotspots, which are running as a free service for a year, are currently located at the Airport (near Castletown) and the Villa Marina (Douglas) with further hotspots planned for the NSC sports complex, the Manx Museum and the Sea Terminal - all in Douglas, the home of about half of the island's population. Other wi-fi hotspots are being promoted in hotels such as the Ascot and also a new bar and grill called Cunninghams, based in Douglas. Almost certainly there will be others but these are just two of the private sector hotspots I've heard of lately.

It is great to see that the island is taking up the wireless revolution, but it would be even better to see them embracing more wireless broadband technologies which offered high speed data access to rural communities. Half of the island's population live in the main conurbation of Douglas and Onchan, and many of the rest live within a short distance of the other towns of the island (many of which house a telephone exchange) but there are a large number of people living in the countryside who have no access to broadband at all. The government has been good at offering grants for ISDN, ADSL, and more recently even wireless broadband links, but there are restrictions as to who can use them. To make it viable for the company offering the services, they have to target appartment blocks and small out-of-ADSL-reach communities but still can't really target lone households unless they happen to be in the path of those links planned already.

Manx Telecom, the sole provider of telecommunications on the island, has always been at the forefront of mobile phone technology, testing the first European 3G networks and also now high speed HSDPA links, which could feasibly bring broadband to everybody else. I am keen to see how that progresses but judging by the lack of services launched off the 3G tests, I won't hold my breath.