For $300 at the get-go plus $50 a month Surf and Sip will set up a hot spot for a cafe and handle ongoing network monitoring and support. The system blocks spam and lists the location on Surf and Sip's Web site.
Because Surf and Sip has deals with iPass, Boingo, Fatport, and others, the free cafes can also list their hot spots among those available to customers of those services.
Surf and Sip's Rick Ehrlinspiel figures that if a cafe can't imagine bringing in at least $100 worth of new business it's not worth it to offer free Wi-Fi. That's because the hot spot will cost the $50 support fee plus the cost of a DSL line.
Surf and Sip is marketing this to cafes or other locations that may want to offer free Wi-Fi but don't want to support it. "We don't want them to have to replace their barista with a tech geek who burns water," Ehrlinspiel said. Users of the free service either have to sign up for free accounts and provide a credit card number (which isn't charged), or use a one-time access card provided by the venue.
Airpath Wireless has a similar offering that costs hot spot locations $25 a month for no setup fee. If more than 50 unique customers use the network in a month, the price goes up.
Airpath seems to say that it has deals with providers like iPass, GRIC, and FatPort so when subscribers of those providers roam onto a free network, the free network provider gets a cut of the revenue from that subscriber. Airpath says the free service providers can list their hot spots on the Web sites of those subscription services. Airpath's offering is hosted but customers can access data about customer usage online.
Airpath's offering is really robust and looks to be a slightly stripped down version of a platform it offers as a hosted service to venues that want to charge for Wi-Fi.
Funny that there seems to be competition for helping out the folks that want to offer free Wi-Fi. But the helpers are making money on the deal and hope that the free sites will want to upgrade to paid sites in the future, when the helpers can make more money by sharing revenue.