The way to do Wireless Internet is: start with wired
Broadreach has unveiled a "ready to surf" brand of wireless Internet - with a real difference. It is mostly wired. Also, it charges by the second.
The result is that you can take your home broadband with you on the road. Already, the deal is done with BT OpenWorld and Virgin Net; others, including phone providers, are negotiating.
If you want to hear scorn poured on the conventional "WISP" concept - the wireless ISP - talk to Broadreach founder and CEO Magnus McEwen-King. He reckons people are simply wasting their money trying to create purely wireless businesses.
"We're trying to meet a need, not provide technology," he told NewsWireless.Net yesterday. We were sitting in the Virgin Megastore in the Haymarket, next to London's Piccadilly Circus; one of several Virgin stores where Broadreach has a perfectly ordinary Internet kiosk system.
It looks just like an ordinary Internet Cafe. You buy a voucher for online time at the coffee shop, you log on.
But the difference is that on this voucher, you become a member of Broadreach, and it stores your details, and - most vital detail - how much time you've used. A pound buys you 50 minutes in the morning off-peak time; 25 minutes in the afternoon - but if you only use one minute, you still have 49 minutes left. And you can use it up any time, at any Ready to Surf location.
That includes the wireless ones. Right now, this is an academic issue, because as an introductory offer, all public Ready to Surf points are free to wireless users. At the end of the trial period, however, the timer will start and your wireless connection will work exactly like the kiosk.
"WiFi is one of the smallest parts of the public access part today," said McEwen-King. "Fixed is the majority, with kiosks, or cat5 cable, or dialup, all vastly outweighing wireless. It will one day - around 2005 to 2007 - be the bulk, but we don't see it being bigger than fixed for another four years at least.
The Ready To Surf logo is one you sign up to - not just in the location where it is offered, but at your own broadband provider.
"We did a trial with BT Openworld, offering a few subscribers the option of buying time at Broadreach on top of their normal bill. It was seven times more popular than we planned for," reported McEwen-King. "The same goes for the Virgin service which we're rolling out now."
Still to be announced are one, maybe two, major mobile phone companies who will offer a Broadreach subscription, billed to your mobile phone. Like the phone service, it will be billed per second. "You really can log on for a minute, check to see if there are any emails, and if there aren't, log off, with just 60 seconds reduced from your account," McEwen-King said - and he demonstrated on the local kiosk.
Plans for the future involve enabling Virgin access along the Virgin Rail system, and eventually, adding satellite broadband to the trains themselves, so that passengers can surf using their broadband billing while travelling.
The advantage over standard WISP terms and conditions is stark. Where BT OpenZone (just one example) allows you an hour from the moment when you tear open your expensive, plastic-encased coupon, and logs you off permanently 60 minutes later even if you only stayed online for ten seconds, you can genuinely roam around with your Broadreach voucher.
It can't match a genuinely free, open hotspot - but it doesn't have to. All it has to do is be available to subscribers in places where other access is expensive or exclusive.
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