SBC’s Wi-Fi Plan Taking Shape

Details of SBC Communications’ public Wi-Fi strategy are starting to leak.

The broadband service provider will install about 2,000 hotspots in hotels, airports and other public venues in its 13-state coverage area by year’s end, the The Wall Street Journal, citing unnamed sources, reported today.

Michael Coe, a spokesman for the San Antonio, Texas-based company, wouldn’t comment on the story’s specifics, saying final decisions about the number of access points, pilot markets and pricing haven’t been made.

In early May, SBC issued its request for proposals (RFPs) for the network equipment needed to build wireless access sites.

“(The vendors) responded in late May and we’re still in process of reviewing the RFPs,” Coe told “We hope to select (one) and announce that soon.”

Currently, SBC offers hotspots for enterprise (using Cisco gear) and home customers (using 2Wire gear). Cisco, as well as Proxim and Symbol, are expected to be among those vying for the business.

Another outstanding question is partnering. Although SBC has said it would base some hotspots at SBC pay phone sites, it hasn’t ruled out teaming with hotels and airport operators.

“We’re looking at all avenues,” Coe said. “You want to be in venues where customers would be using laptops and have time on hands. We need to talk to those companies but Whether it’s (an agreement with) one at a time or a chain remains to be seen.”

More specifics should be announced in late July or early August, Coe said.

If the Journal’s numbers are correct, SBC’s 2,000 hotspots would be double the access points being installed by Verizon Communications in Manhattan. Verizon was the first major carrier to announce plans to offer Wi-Fi with home or small business broadband contracts.

Although Verizon’s push is only in New York (1,000 hotspots (define) by year’s end), the carrier has grand plans. Executives were reluctant to announce a rollout schedule, but hope to use feedback from the Big Apple to launch in other East Coast markets.

For service providers, the purpose of Wi-Fi incentive is two-fold: to attract the 50 percent of U.S. Internet users who have not made the jump to high-speed access; and to keep current subscribers from defecting to Comcast which delivers broadband through cable.

In other Wi-Fi news, book seller Barnes & Noble is said to be readying Wi-Fi test in more than 20 stores in the Atlanta and Seattle areas. The offering will likely be offered through a telecom partner.

For retailers, the importance of Wi-Fi is as an amenity, not as a money maker by itself. Customers who stay longer in stores will likely buy more books, magazine and CDs.

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