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Nescafe navigation – inside world's biggest cybercafe

Starbucks - bid for the next concession, please

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Report Easyjet's Easy Everything cyber-Nescafe near London's Victoria is now fully open, with 380 terminals. This probably makes it the biggest in the world, although the next of four more that are planned for London is likely to have 500 screens. Future expansion sites will include Amsterdam, which is an important EasyJet route. HP has provided the hardware and integration, with Samsung SyncMaster flat screens (said to be worth £850 each), HP keyboards and mouse, with the processors tucked away out of sight. The browser is Netscape, with no IE option. The server is a single HP Vectra, and there are two 4Mbit lines. Since the place opened, it has had queues during the day, although the increased capacity in the basement should now ease the situation. So what are the punters doing there? We had a look during the early hours of Saturday and found a mixture of mailers, games players and browsers. Most seemed to have had some experience, although night manager Tina Stiff has a help staff of eight, available free during the current promotional period. Rob, a teacher of computing who is working there between jobs, said that there had been very few problems with the kit. He noted that the greatest problem had been with mailers trying to sign on to Hotmail: five minute waits sometimes occurred. The record so far for continuous use is 15 hours, but this is likely to be challenged. The elements of the business plan were explained by marketing director Tony Anderson. Easy Everything is a separate company. The assumption is that there will be 60 per cent occupancy 24 hours/day, with each user spending an hour there, and paying a pound an hour. HP is doing joint marketing and probably agreed to a low-margin deal to get some kudos in this marketplace. The biggest expense is the rent for the site, but a large part of this is covered by the Nescafe concession. The business model relies on economies of scale, and requires there to be 2,000 terminals in London. Any advertising revenue from the large screen ads will be gravy and not essential to success. Anderson said that Stelios Haji-Ioannou, the founder of Easyjet, had ordained that there be no reliance on esoteric revenue, and that it was a prerequisite that the venture should be designed to be profitable. Anderson noted that the greatest surprise from a survey of users had been that about half of them said they had a PC with Internet capability at home. This is not surprising in the case of travellers, but so far as office commuters are concerned, it may be that the days of the yuppie phone are numbered. It is also noteworthy that the Victoria venture replaced a bookshop. It's a pity that road warriors cannot go there to plug in their laptops, instead of being ripped off by hotels or business centres. Will the next step be cybercafes at motorway service areas? We think so. The good news is that the coffee concession will be negotiated on a site-by-site basis. We wonder how long it will be before Starbucks starts waving its chequebook. ®

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