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November 18, 2002

Turnkey Hot Spots

If you're a desirable venue, like a major airport or a hotel in a downtown business district or a chain of bookstores, you might receive proposals every week about how paid wireless networking could bring in new customers if only you'd shell out some amount of money to company X to provide that service for you.

If you run a coffee shop or other venue open to the public (or even just near congregations of people), you might have considered installing for-fee service, but not known where to turn. (If you want to offer free access, there are a number of community networking resources -- see NoCat, for instance.)

As the hot spot market has developed, turnkey hot spot systems have proliferated, letting venues who want relatively simple access in single locations in their facilities buy a piece of equipment, purchase DSL or higher-speed Internet service, plug the equipment in, and be ready to take customers. The lack of technical instruction and the avoidance of an on-site installation visit combine to make these offerings relatively inexpensive.

Several networks offer their own turnkey systems that tie into just their network, or allow both a local service for one's own users that also allows members of a national network to use the same system, and for you to receive revenue from it. For instance, FatPort's FatPoint system allows Boingo Wireless users access as well.

Turnkey Hot Spot Systems

AirPath: AirPath has several plans, including AirPath Instant Hot Spot. They offer a variety of equipment, starting at $695, and also have approved equipment you can deploy. The advantage of their system is that you keep all the revenue from local subscriber (from a single point or a network of hot spots you build), and receive partner revenue from other AirPath members using your point. AirPath also allows Boingo Wireless customers to roam on their network.

Boingo Wireless: Boingo Wireless has trademarked the phrase Hot Spot in a Box, which is why I refer to them generically as turnkey hot spot systems. Boingo requires the purchase of a $695 Colubris access point configured for authentication, as well as high-speed service and a static IP address. Boingo pays a $20 bounty for each new member, and $1 per connection session at a hot spot location. Boingo also offers WISP in a Box, which allows a hot spot to have their own network customers while also offering Boingo service. (This is actually Pronto's Hotspot Managed Services sold under this name; see below.) The revenue sharing is the same, but Boingo requires that its partners in this service charge no less than $12 per month, $6 per day, and $3 per hour. At the 802.11 Planet conference in December 2002, Boingo's CEO announced Boingo Ready, which is the inclusion of their hot-spot-enabled software in hardware by Colubris, Nomadix, and Vernier. He also said that they expect the price for a hot-spot box that works with their network to drop to as low as $300, and that their software would also wind up in consumer devices. Becoming a hot spot would mean signing up and flipping a switch.

FatPort: FatPort, a Canadian firm, has a set of offerings under the FatPoint name available in North America. FatPoint Complete: A hands-off managed solution for US$199/month, including DSL service, technical support, and what they label an "up to 40%" revenue share. FatPoint Express: US$525 buys the FatPoint server; you supply the bandwidth and tech support for "up to 40%" of the revenue. FatPort also offers an OEM version of their FatPoint server for WISPs. Although a revenue-sharing percentage is noted, there's no detail about what a typical location might see.

NetNearU: This firm offers several kinds of preconfigured hot spot services, but little detail on their online site. You need to contact them for details, such as cost and revenue sharing. Boingo Wireless subscribers can use NetNearU locations. A NetNearU reseller wrote in to note that he resells the turnkey system either for $495 and gives venues 15 percent of the revenue in exchange for providing technical support and marketing; or, for $695 with a 40 percent revenue cut for the location, but they're responsible for marketing and tech support themselves.

Pronto Networks: Pronto wrote in to provide some details on their service. They have two turnkey solutions. The first is Hotspot Managed Services, which is a private-labeled offering for hot spot operators who want to brand under their own identity but not handle backend details like billing or user accounts. For these setups, Pronto charges $799 for a Hotspot Controller, and offers 75 percent of the revenue to the hot spot operator. Pronto also offers the same device in its Hotspot Networking System, which is for hot spt operators who want to fully run their own systems. This costs $799 for a controller and $7,990 for a 10-controller software license for full authentication, roaming, and billing management.

Surf and Sip: Surf and Sip has an offering which they describe only in vague terms on this page. It's a single box that offers both wireline and wireless access to make it easier to set up a net cafe or a pure wireless setup. Details on pricing, availability, and revenue sharing to come as the company is in the middle of revising its offerings.

Toshiba: Toshiba offers a $199 turnkey system that they'll be marketing heavily. They don't provide simple details on what users pay, how much it really costs all told to use a Toshiba hot spot device, nor any other details. (Anyone who knows, please provide them with my thanks.) But they have said they want to get 10,000 hot spots installed in the US (and some equal number under a separate division in Canada).