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Wireless network launches amid security concerns

"Warchalking", where symbols mark points where wireless signals can be tapped into, threatens security.

(RTS)

Wireless Internet access across Switzerland has moved a step closer to reality with the provision of 100 new locations where the infrastructure is available.

The "hotspots" include train stations, hotels, exhibition and congress centres but fears have already been expressed about security.

Swisscom Mobile, which is providing the network, hopes to increase the number of locations to 250 by the end of 2003.

A private telecoms company, based in Zurich, already offers wireless technology at Zurich airport and in parts of the city.

Security concerns

Hotspots are places where people can use their laptops or pocket PCs to access the Net without being tethered to a telephone line or cable. They simply use a special WiFi (Wireless Fidelity) Card, which costs about SFr100.

However data protection experts warn that companies need to think very carefully about Internet security.

"Most data on the web is not encrypted and everybody can listen in," Peter Heinzmann, professor for Internet technologies and application, and technical director, Cnlab, told swissinfo.

"Business e-mails should always be consulted on a secure server. It's not generally possible to encrypt private e-mails. If you're using a computer to access wireless LAN, it should definitely be protected with a personal firewall. Otherwise it's very easy for someone to access data from your notebook."

Wireless computer networks let people connect up to the net via a radio link.

"With wireless Lan, you don't know how far the radio waves travel nor how sensitive are the antennae which listeners use," warned Heinzmann.

Speedy access

Swisscom Mobile's new Wi-Fi technology enables users to surf the web at high transmission speeds of up to 2Mbit/s.

From January, the cost of a two-hour card will be SFr19 while a 24-hour card will cost SFr48.

Among the hotspots are Bern and Geneva railway stations, the Lucerne Cultural and Congress Centre, all seminar hotels in Davos and a number of Mövenpick hotels throughout Switzerland.

Stickers at every Hotspot location will show travellers the infrastructure that is available.

Digital divide

Monzoon Networks, a Swiss pioneer in developing Wireless LAN hotspots, already offers wireless technology at Zurich airport and in about 20 locations around the city such as conference centres and business hotels.

The company charges SFr30 for a 24-hour card.

Founded in 2000, Monzoon Networks, has been commissioned by Swiss to equip the Swiss airline's business lounges worldwide with wireless broadband Internet access.

At the moment, the wireless revolution threatens to create a digital divide in Switzerland.

Swisscom Mobile's new network only has five access points in the French speaking part of Switzerland including three in Geneva. The other two are at business hotels in Lully and at Villars-sur-Ollon.

However spokesman Christian Neuhaus told swissinfo that plans to expand should remedy the situation.

"By 2003, we hope to offer 250 access points and a good third of those should be in French-speaking Switzerland."

According to a study by the Gartner Group, approximately 50 per cent of company laptops around the world will be equipped for Wireless LAN by 2006.

Swisscom Mobile anticipates that over 50 per cent of Swiss companies will provide a mobile office as part of their standard infrastructure within three years.

swissinfo

Key facts

Wireless Internet is to become available in 100 "hotspots" in Switzerland.
Access will cost about SFr100.
Users can surf at transmission speeds of up to 2Mbit/s.

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