The access provider that specializes in Wi-Fi has outlasted many competitors: The firm's bread and butter was once wired Ethernet pulled into hotel rooms, but they were early to consider and deploy Wi-Fi. While MobileStar went into bankruptcy, AerZone never launched, and other smaller firms disappeared, Wayport lasted through the dotcom crash and venture capital pullback to become the largest U.S. operator of Wi-Fi locations--over 13,000, combining their own contracted points and managed locations they handle for AT&T FreedomLink. Wayport was the first to push roaming as a concept, rewriting their contracts with their partners to resell those locations to Boingo Wireless, iPass, and now numerous others.
I wouldn't normally point to the celebration of a company's anniversary or longevity, even one that's been as key to the domestic expansion of Wi-Fi hotspots, except that Wayport thoughtfully includes some good statistics in their announcement. They say that they have served 25m paid connections since inception but nearly half of those have come in the last 12 months. They now incorporate 7,200 McDonald's restaurants, and I know of a few thousand FreedomLink locations as well. The rest are hotels (most of them primarily offering in-room wired access) and airports.
There was a point in which hotels appeared to be a growth market for Wi-Fi installations (with a finite limit) that would be split among major hotspots operators. In fact, that market appears to have stalled, even as major deals continue to be announced, because so many of the budget chains opted for free access. Some chains offer free service pay management fees to hotspot operators.
Where's growth in hotspot locations today? It's a good question, and one I hope to answer in the coming weeks. McDonald's is the only quick-service restaurant of its scale--think Burger King, Subway, and Wendy's--that offers Wi-Fi. Hotels have their own plans and there aren't any remaining quick wins or large wins. Borders and Barnes & Noble are tied up. And convention centers have figured out their own typically sucky strategy of charging obscene, insane fees.