As the debate over whether Wi-Fi ‘hotspots’ should remain accessible to wireless users for free grows bigger and more involved, apparently so do the actual access points themselves.
Based on 802.11b technology, also known as Wi-Fi (wireless fidelity), these nodes or hot spots tap into unlicensed electromagnetic spectrum to provide wireless high-speed access in commercial areas such as cafes, hotels, airports, and restaurants.
Normally these hot spots can only access a high-speed wireless connection within a 50-500 foot radius, depending on spectrum availability, but Palo Alto, Calif.-based WiFi Metro and partner hereUare Communications, a wireless network aggregator, are thinking bigger is better.
In conjunction with Gatespeed Broadband, Inc., a single source ISP that provides the wireless backbone and signal towers to the WiFi Metro network, the two companies have launched a second Wi-Fi ‘HotZone’ that spans more than six city blocks and can deliver connection speeds of up to 10 Mbps.
A HotZone, unlike a hotspot, covers a larger swath of outdoor city geography and can be accessed from inside a parked car as well as a park bench or cafi, increasing the amount of spectrum available to the average ‘road warrior’ or business traveler seeking high-speed Internet access from a laptop or personal digital assistant (PDA).
“A HotZone is a hotspot on steroids,” said Arturo Pereyra, general manager for WiFi Metro, who claims that his company is the only U.S.-based Wi-Fi network that currently offers these larger access points.
“The HotZone, as opposed to the hotspot, gives mobile workers more choices and the ability to set up a ‘virtual office’ where they connect to their corporate offices without having to search for a phone jack or battle a slow 3G connection.”
WiFi Metro’s newest HotZone is located in downtown San Jose, Calif. from Santa Clara Street to 1st Street and Notre Dame Avenue. The company’s other wireless HotZone is in Palo Alto, Calif. and will soon be joined by Wi-Fi HotZones in Seattle, San Francisco, and San Diego.
There is a huge pent-up demand for high-speed wireless Internet access and HotZones are real-world alternatives available today that allow people to remotely access corporate systems like ERPs and CRMs without having to battle slow connections,” said Roland Van der Meer of ConVentures. “It raises the wireless standard beyond email and text messaging.”
To access the WiFi Metro network of HotZones and hotspots, the company charges a $19.95 “all you can eat” unlimited access plan that by the end of this year will include up to 200 hotspots and more than 20 HotZones throughout the U.S., according to Pereyra.
WiFo Metro also ensures a secure wireless connection for its subscribers through authentication and authorization protocol software embedded in the access points. Private hotspot access is not normally secure and can open a wireless users up to all sorts of system invasions and corruption.
But WiFi Metro and its affiliates are not alone in the rapidly expanding WiFi marketplace.
Santa Monica, Calif.-based startup Boingo, the brainchild of Earthlink co-founder Sky Dayton, has also been moving quickly into the Wi-Fi space and trying to capitalize on networking the hundreds of fragmented private Wi-Fi access points into one single network that can be accessed for a monthly subscription fee.
Wi-Fi Metro and Boingo are reportedly in talks to perhaps combine some of their access points.
“A network is a network,” said Pereyra. ” When you have a hodgepodge of access points, there is no consistency. An access point that is free is not usually secure and you are inviting trouble. We provide a service for road warriors through one consistent service that provides these people with a safe connection.”