RealTime IT News

A Meal with a Side of Wi-Fi

Starting with the southern California area, Netopia will soon be offering its hosted hotspot solution to restaurants and cafés that want it, through a business partnership with Sysco Food Service, the giant food supply company. Sysco will market the service to its customers.

"In the Los Angeles region, we've got a test pilot running with [Sysco's] affliate program," says Susan Korec, director of channel marketing for hotspots at Netopia. "We'll be offering a turnkey service to their restaurants," she says, but also adds that Sysco supplies food and materials to just about any food service you can imagine, from college dining halls to hospital cafeterias to small mom-and-pop coffee shops. All are potential customers for Netopia hotspots.

"Venues respond to the product. They like that it's relatively inexpensive," says Korec, saying the cost is usually less than $700 per year for a hotspot to run (not including any high-speed Internet connection they'll need).

Sysco's big footprint could push the project nationwide. For now, however, the company will concentrate on southern California, where Netopia has an established set of value added resellers (VARs) that can handle the installation of the hotspots.

Sysco's sales representatives need to be fully educated on what Netopia offers. From there, after sales calls, any venues that are interested can easily go online for information, where they'll generate leads that Netopia can send on to a local VAR for follow up. If there isn't a VAR in the area that can handle the installation, Netopia will let the venue know it's not available there. Yet.

Netopia does have some national VARs, but is on the lookout for new locals in all states to push this sales program past just the west coast. Korec says the perfect VAR would have 3 to 4 people in practice, with a least one marketing person who could respond to sales leads.

The Emeryville, Calif. company's hotspot service was announced last summer, and includes a 3-D Reach Wi-Fi Gateway that connects via broadband Internet connection to hosted services run by Netopia. It can handle all the billing and AAA. It's up to the venue whether they actually charge end-users for Internet access or not, and how much. Venues are also provided with prepaid cards used to give end-users credentials needed to go online.

"The venues don't know what they need to ask," says Korec. "They need someone to walk them through what they have, what they want to accomplish. We need to walk them through the basic steps."