MCI Expands Wi-Fi Coverage

The carrier reaches out to business customers by looking beyond airports and partnering with Boingo Wireless to supply Wi-Fi in public settings like cafes.

MCI is stepping up its Wi-Fi access by nearly doubling its hotspot coverage and exploring new applications that will cater to corporate customers.

The carrier in the next few months will expand its Wi-Fi footprint from 6,200 to about 11,000 hotspots worldwide through a deal with Boingo Wireless Inc., officials said. This will include the addition of 3,400 hotspot locations in the United States by early May.

While they declined to divulge where those spots will be, officials said the company will be increasing its focus on cafes and public business centers rather than on hotels and airports—the idea being that there are business customers who will need wireless access for offsite excursions even if theyre not flying somewhere.

"Were getting a lot more of the windshield warrior-type venues," said Kevin Gatesman, senior manager of emerging technologies at MCI Inc. in Ashburn, Va. "Most businesses have people who need to be connected out of the office, who travel throughout a given geography."

In the next couple of years, MCI will be looking at supporting wireless tasks beyond basic Wi-Fi data access.

/zimages/1/28571.gifClick here to read about MCIs expanded Private IP VPN network service.

"Were setting the stage for being able to support applications such as voice," Gatesman said. He added that the company is also investigating the idea of Wi-Fi/cellular roaming, although MCI is not a cellular carrier.

Gatesman said the company also is looking at various billing options for Wi-Fi. Right now customers pay either a flat rate of $40 per month on top of existing dial-up services or $8 to $15 on a per-usage basis. The company is also looking at a "Remote Broadband Access Plus" option, which will include Wi-Fi service that is not included in the flat rate because of operating expenses: This would include venues such as airplanes and extremely remote locations.

/zimages/1/28571.gifTo read about TGn Sync, the high-speed Wi-Fi standard recently chosen by the IEEE, click here.

New hotspots are added to MCIs Access Manager, client software that lets customers identify available hotspots or, if there isnt one, to pick among local dial-up options. The company also offers several encryption protocols.

Features like these are how the company justifies charging for the service, even though free hot spots are beginning to pop up all over the country. Las Vegas McCarran International Airport offers free Wi-Fi access, for instance. And several retail chains offer free Wi-Fi in the majority of their locations; these include Panera Bread Company and Schlotzskys Ltd.

Still, the industry is not expecting ubiquitous complimentary wireless service any time soon.

"Free Wi-Fi will increase but will not be everywhere," said Ken Dulaney, vice president of mobile computing at Gartner Inc. in San Jose, Calif.

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