RealTime IT News

Passing out the Papers

If all it takes to get people to sign-up to use a hotspot is the super-fast wireless Internet access, why does Wayport keep handing out other content?

Just another value added to the service, they say.

This week, the Austin, Texas, based provider of wired and wireless connections around the world began offering a third free digital publication: free electronic copies of USA Today, available to new sign-ups -- three issues to download over three days. Wayport's first such offering began last summer with copies of the magazine BusinessWeek. Last month, they started offering the New York Times, free for one day after signing up.

All of the publications are delivered electronically and viewed on the computer desktop, but retain the same layout as the print version, even including the ads.

All three publications can net the user a $25 pre-paind connection card for future use on any Wayport network site, if the user signs up for an electronic subscription after the free period ends. To view BusinessWeek, users have to download a player from Zinio Systems of Brisbane, Calif.; to read the newspapers, a player from NewsStand is required. An electronic subscription to BusinessWeek is $45.97 a year (same as the print version); it's $32.50 for 13 weeks of USA Today (compared to $39 for the dead-tree version) and $13.00 for four weeks of the Grey Lady (Monday to Friday, no weekend editions).

Dan Lowden, vice president of marketing for Wayport, says offering the digital downloads "provides more value for the airports and McDonalds" locations where Wayport has setup networks.

Still, no other wireless ISPs seem to be rushing to offer any extras to customers. Yet Wayport is thinking of offering audio and video content in the future.

The company also announced today it has passed the mark of four million paid high-speed connections. That's the number they consider worth looking at instead of just subscriptions, since the Wayport network can be used for one hour to 24 hour connections without expecting return customers. That number includes both wired and wireless connections, but Lowden says Wi-Fi has more than double the growth of Ethernet-based connections.

He did not disclose any numbers on how many viewers of the electronic publications have gone on to become subscribers of either the Wayport service or of the periodicals themselves.

"It's too early to tell if its bringing people back, but we think they must be using it and returning," says Lowden. "It's clearly a differentiated service."

Wayport continues to grow its network at a steady clip. They are one of the providers for McDonald's growing network of hotspots in the United States, even providing service at two experimental "McCafe" coffee shops in North Carolina. Lowden says they also won contracts last month for 45 new premiere hotels.