-Fi"> The issue is whether Wi-Fi will deliver what McDonalds wants. Dan Lowden, Wayports vice president of marketing, said he believes it will. Wi-Fi service, he told me, has already proven to be a differentiator in the airport and hotel business. "If a hotel does not have hot-spot Internet access, theyre losing occupancy," he said. "From that standpoint, business is very, very good.""We found that theres a lot of interest from people in using the service," Lowden said. Why? According to Lowden, users know they can get connectivity in hotels and airports, but Wi-Fi service remains limited in conventional venues that people frequent on a daily basis. But it might be a while before families start toting laptops into their favorite haunts. A survey of hot-spot users done by Parks Associates last year showed that the vast majority of hot-spot users are still the road warriorsmobile professionals who require connectivity to do their jobs. According to Michael Cai, a senior analyst at Parks, "More than 35 percent of Internet households are familiar with the concept [of hot spots], but only 3 percent had used hot-spot service and only 1 percent had become subscribers. Its not a mass-market service yet." If consumer demand were the only issue, it would be reasonable to ask whether McDonalds might not just pull plug on the deal if wireless connectivity fails to bring customers into the store. But Wayport is not approaching this as purely a consumer service. In delivering business applications, e-training and other business services to McDonalds employees, the unwired restaurant locations will have a staying power that a consumer-only model does not. After a lot of initial angst over what would drive acceptance of the hot-spot model, the focus now seems to be on the delivery of aggregated services. Boingo Wireless Inc., a leader in that area, built its business around aggregating services through a network of partnerships so that subscribers can wirelessly access the network from any participating providers location. Those services lately are finding their way into bundled service offerings. "We really think there is a great opportunity for major telcos, ISPs and managed service providers who have existing subscriber bases to bundle Wi-Fi with their offering," Boingo CEO Dave Hagen told me. "The only way to go," analyst Cai said, "is to bundle services and sell to companies instead of directly selling to end users." Wayports approach embraces both. So, in saying good-bye to Cometa, we say hello to a business model in the hot-spot arena that may be what the business has been waiting for. Check out eWEEK.coms Mobile & Wireless Center at http://wireless.eweek.com for the latest news, reviews and analysis.
Lowden said he looks for Wayport to repeat the success nationally that it enjoyed in its McDonalds trial markets. Wayport deployed hot spots in test markets in San Francisco; Portland, Oregon; Raleigh, N.C.; and Boise, Idaho.