Since launching the Wi-Fi ZONE program for branding hotspots back in March 2003, the Wi-Fi Alliance has certified 6000 public-access venues in about 47 countries.
The nonprofit Wi-Fi Alliance is best known for its certification of products supporting 802.11x and its own Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA) security initiative. They recently announced that they have reached a total of 900 Wi-Fi Certified products that have been checked for interoperability.
Despite this seeming success of zero to 6000 in about six months, some major hotspot players — notably T-Mobile Hotspot, which has the largest hotspot network in the United States with over 3000 locations in Borders Books, Starbucks Coffee Shops, and (soon) Kinko’s — have not signed on to the ZONE program.
The reason for this, thinks Alliance chairman Dennis Eaton, is concern about brand identity.
“The biggest issues we’ve come up against [with the Wi-Fi ZONE program] is that some of the bigger players have confusion and concern over the logo itself and preserving their brand identity,” says Eaton. “They are reluctant to put another logo next to theirs, fearing it would dilute their brand.” Displaying the Wi-Fi ZONE logo in stores and online is considered one of the major perks of ZONE certification, along with having locations listed on the Wi-Fi ZONE directory at www.wi-fizone.org.
T-Mobile didn’t return calls asking for them to clarify their position on this issue at press time. T-Mobile does use the term “Wi-Fi” in its advertising, but using it as a generic term for all 802.11-based networking is something the Alliance endorses. They only worry about the trademarks on the terms “Wi-Fi Certified” and “Wi-Fi ZONE.”
To help bolster participation in the ZONE program, the Alliance quietly dropped all fees related to certification and Wi-Fi ZONE listings. When the program was first announced, the cost to be certified was figured at a few hundred dollars per venue.
The fees, Eaton says, were never meant to do anything more than cover the costs of administrating the program. But they became “yet another hurdle or barrier to people jumping in the ZONE. It was more of a headache than anything.”
In fact, the Alliance never got a chance to charge fees to any of the 6000 hotspots it now lists, as the program was meant to be free until March 2004 anyway. The only requirements for venues to be listed as part of the zone now are that they must use Wi-Fi Certified hardware, they must offer public Internet access, and they must sign an agreement with the Alliance spelling all of this out. Only then will the venues be certified and listed on the Web site.
The Alliance plans to make announcements soon on new features for the ZONE listings.
Eaton says that while some large hotspot operators might not appear in the ZONE listings, many of their sites are included anyway; for example, Wayport might not show up, but a Wayport partner might. And he hopes companies will eventually look past any branding issues they might have and except the ZONE logo as complementary.
“It’s meant to be like the Cirrus logo you’d see on an ATM machine,” says Eaton. “We want to be a global sign of equipment working in their location.”