New Router Can Turn a Small Business into a HotSpot

Providing customers with Wi-Fi access can help the bottom line of almost any small business by attracting customers who use wireless services during waiting times. These customers are also likely to spend more time in a shop buying more coffee, donuts or sandwiches. In addition to tangible indirect benefits, operating a wireless hotspot can generate profits of between $300 and $400 per month based on an average of only two user connections per day and 10 sign-ups per month.

Boingo Wireless and Linksys, a division of Cisco Systems, this week announced a joint HotSpot in a Box program that makes commercial Wi-Fi hotspot business opportunities available to small businesses — such as coffee shops, restaurants, doctor’s offices, gas stations, independent hotels, retail outlets, and office lobbies — where high speed wireless Internet access can be available.

In general, a hotspot setup with nothing more than a broadband connection and an off-the-shelf wireless router — even from a leading company like Cisco’s Linksys division — is derided by many as insecure and lacking the robustness needed for public access.

Maybe not anymore. Linksys is the new linchpin of a new HotSpot in a Box program being run by Boingo Wireless, a company that aggregates wireless hotspot networks under its umbrella name. Boingo wants to provide as large a roaming footprint for its subscribers as possible.

The product featured in the program is the $229 Linksys Wireless-G VPN Broadband Router (WRV54G), an 802.11g router (define) with ports for Ethernet connections as well. This unit is a step up from SOHO products, and is meant more for the small-to-medium business that needs virtual private network endpoints for remote workers. It’s doubtful that Boingo hotspot functionality will migrate to other Linksys products, as the WRV54G has more memory and processor power.

Boingo has long provided a HotSpot In a Box program, but the hardware tended to be high-end and expensive — too expensive for many venue owners.

Steve Troyer, director of product marketing at Linksys, says the genesis of this project goes back almost a year: “They [Boingo] know what we’re capable of, the volume we can put out there.”

For hotspots, a large volume of products translates to a larger number of venues: the major measuring stick for the industry … at least until the industry is friendly enough to offer cellular phone style roaming. Linksys volume can’t be argued: it is the number one seller of wireless products across the globe according to Synergy Research Group, selling even more in the last quarter of 2004 than its powerhouse parent, Cisco.

The Boingo hotspot feature of the WRV54G will be available via a free firmware download. Once installed and attached to a broadband connection such as a DSL line or cable modem, the location of the router can be registered with the Boingo Roaming System.

Venues are automatically listed online by Boingo, and at directories such as Intel’s. Beyond the listing to get the word out, venue owners will receive marketing support in the form of posters, table tents, door stickers, and other materials generated by Boingo and Intel (to support the awareness program for Intel’s Centrino chipset, which provides embedded Wi-Fi in laptops).

Setup is simple and Boingo charges a $10 registration fee at the time. After, a venue owner can access Boingo’s online tools to monitor traffic and change the configuration of the unit. The payback for the vendor is in the revenue sharing. Venue owners get $1 every time a Boingo Roaming System subscriber uses the hotspot, or as much as $4 for one-time daily usage sign-ups (that’s more than half of the $7.95 the end user would pay). There’s a $20 bounty for getting someone to setup a monthly subscription while they’re on the hotspot. Venue owners get a check whenever their total share reaches $25 (or once a month if its selling a lot of usage).

The unit is not limited to just Boingo subscribers — the router can be configured to let venue employees use the broadband without paying extra. Christian Gunning, the director of product management at Boingo, says this was a product requirement established by feedback the company received from venue owners, who, after all, already pay for the broadband.

This deal between Linksys and Boingo is not exclusive. Troyer says he doesn’t expect any other hardware vendors will be doing this with Boingo in the short term; Boingo’s Gunning says, “The Wi-Fi market requires flexibility to partner with people around you.”

Other “Boingo Ready” devices, according to the company Web site, include high end hotspot equipment from Vernier, Nomadix and Colubris Networks — the latter powers Boingo’s original HotSpot in a Box, which Gunning thinks will remain available.

“This [announcement] is a vanguard of more full-function, lower-cost devices that are already available. The channel distribution of Linksys is high, so it sets a new standard. But that doesn’t mean everything else gets abandoned.”

Adapted from Wi-Fi

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