Want Broadband With Your Fries?

Now this is super-sizing your experience at McDonalds: for roughly $13 a
month, Tokyo regulars at the neighborhood restaurant can connect their
laptops to a wireless broadband connection beginning this month, letting
them eat and surf at the same time.

The deal, brokered by investment company cum broadband provider
Softbank and the Japanese division of McDonald’s Tuesday,
is the first of its kind for the international food giant and part of the
other’s plans for fixed wireless (Wi-Fi) throughout the “Land of the Rising
Sun.”

Officials at Japan’s “Mickey Ds” plan on enabling nearly 4,000 restaurants
in the coming year or so, though the build-out will be
“gradual.” Ultimately, the company plans on incorporating voice-over-IP
(VOIP) and ordering Big Mac’s online as part of the monthly service.

Putting public-access hotspots throughout Tokyo is an ambitious, if
expensive, way to make money as an Internet service provider (ISP). Not
only does the company need to establish a T-1 (or higher) connection to the
premises through the local telephone company, ancillary costs like the
price of a Wi-Fi access point enter the equation.

But the rewards are enough to justify a front-end investment, according to
research by Cahner’s Instat. Analysts predict the wireless public access
market to pick up considerably in the coming years, culminating in revenues
of $224 million in 2005.

Amy Cravens, Instat industry analyst, said providers are almost
specifically corporations looking to meet the needs of business
travelers. As such, these wireless local area network (WLAN) providers
need to incorporate business-essential tools like virtual private networks
(VPNs) to be more successful in generating new customers.

“Service providers and hardware manufacturers in this space are intently
focused on enabling those applications that are most demanded by business
travelers and ensuring a level of network security appropriate for the
confidential corporate content that will flow over them,” she said.

In the U.S., hotspots are popping up more and more on the American
landscape, following the pattern Cravens describes. Wi-Fi spots can be
found in airports, hotels and even the local Starbucks
in some cases, as providers look to put a wireless broadband connection at
every stop in a business person’s itinerary.

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