So how viable is public hotspot wireless?
The death of MyZones means that the "hotspot" way of providing wireless Internet for mobile users will be under some scrutiny over the next few months - but pessimism may be premature.
We're still waiting to hear from Xtricate boss Clive Mayhew-Begg himself about what has happened to MyZones, after his Wi-Fi hotspot company stopped answering the phone this week. As far as we can tell, Xtricate continues, but MyZones doesn't.
The company was due to make a big "onwards and upwards" announcement at last week's WLAN Event show at Olympia, London - but apparently, when they showed up, it was merely to announce that the company was being wound up.
According to Unstrung, the founders don't feel that it was the business model that let them down: "We placed the company into administration last month," the news site quoted Mayhew-Begg saying. "For the last three months we knew we couldn't compete as a broadband service provider. We just didn't have the resources or the funding."
That may well be the simple truth. In fact, nobody could deny that the founders were guilty of hype - but nonetheless, the concept behind MyZones is one which many have predicted will eventually drive wireless Internet businesses.
It's a franchise operation, reminiscent of deals like Boingo and Sputnik or iPass and so on; and many believe it's an idea which should work. But it seems MyZones simply didn't have the resources to see if they could make the concept stick. The question which remains unanswered, of course, is why they couldn't get the resources, given the number of wealthy financiers on the MyZones board.
Although Mayhew-Begg used the word "administration" - implying that the company would trade normally pending reconstruction - there's no sign of normal trading.
The website still runs, yes; but the "call us!" flag, offering a free 0800 phone number will connect you to a phone company message saying that the service has been discontinued. There is a phone number for overseas customers (why?) which is given as an 0161 number (Manchester) but which rings through to a robot which tells of a new 0870 "local call" number.
That number takes you through to RealPoptel, which is staffed by embarrassed executives who are permitted to say little other than insisting: "There is no relationship between MyZones and Poptel or RealPoptel."
Founders of MyZones include the financial backers of Poptel, including Yoram Amiga of Sum International Holdings, and a (former?) director of Poptel, Dr Stuart Marsden, also of Sum International - both of whom we've attempted to contact. Neither had responded by publication time. Neither had Mayhew-Begg.
Sources at RealPoptel said that Marsden was "still around" but refused to discuss whether he was still a director of that company. They were able to pass on the Xtricate email address for Mayhew-Begg, but no phone numbers.
Until we hear to the contrary from any former MyZones staff directly, our advice to readers is to proceed as if MyZones was no longer a going concern.
RealPoptel will probably offer you technical support if you signed up to the MyZones broadband deal - but it seems that it won't be a support deal covered by any payment you may have made to MyZones, and you may do better to look for quotes from several ISPs.
Does the collapse of MyZones mean that the hotspot concept is doomed? Hardly. It certainly does mean that the nonsense of "we own all the prime sites" has been finally exposed as the newest of Emperor's clothes. But we knew that, and so do the prime purveyors of that imaginary idea, BT Openzone, which started off by claiming "all the key sites" but which has moved rapidly and powerfully into the franchise market, doing deals with other aggregators.
The main problem with MyZones was that if you are buying into their central story, you're trying to set up a way of sharing Internet resources with your neighbours.
That's a brilliant idea, but you can do it for roughly half the cost of what MyZones was asking, by going to LocustWorld or one of its installers, and getting MeshBoxes.