Customers flock to cheap hotspots

Cheap high-speed wireless Internet is being offered to patrons of the Schwartz Family Company in its Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra chain of bars and hotels.According to Jeff Sereno, manager of Schwartz's IT division Cafésydney, the popularity of wireless Internet amongst Internet users has exceeded the company's expectations.

Cheap high-speed wireless Internet is being offered to patrons of the Schwartz Family Company in its Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra chain of bars and hotels.

According to Jeff Sereno, manager of Schwartz's IT division Cafésydney, the popularity of wireless Internet amongst Internet users has exceeded the company's expectations.

"Take-up in the first week has been absolutely mind-boggling, taking in far more than we had first anticipated. We've estimated we could recover all the costs involved in the billing system, AP's [Access Points], the Cafe PC's and associated cabling in less than two quarters," Sereno said.

Using NetComm's HS800 HotSpot solution, the Victoria Hotel now covers all public areas including conference rooms, restaurants and bars, while all rooms on the east wing are ADSL connected.

IDC reported that the demand for wireless Internet has been growing over the last few years with around 80 percent of laptops shipped worldwide now carrying a wireless chip set.

IDC senior analyst for mobile and wireless solutions Warren Chaisatien, previously said "around one-fifth of Australian businesses already have WLAN within their organisations and usage are now spilling onto public areas."

However, Chaisatien believes that the hotspot market is still just starting out with "service providers still largely operating in the 'land grab' mode." An IDC study showed only half a million dollars of wireless service revenue was generated in 2003.

"Coverage, pricing, roaming and billing issues as well as security concerns have been identified as inhibitors to adoption of public WLAN service," Chaisatien added.

Sereno said they have identified these problems and have found a solution for the obstacles.

"Users in Melbourne and elsewhere are paying anything up to A$7 per half hour to use public hotspots - we are charging A$4 an hour and people are flocking to it," Sereno said.

"People don't want the inconvenience of walking 200 metres down the road to the nearest Internet Cafe -- if the access is available right there in the foyer, they are happy to pay a little bit more for the convenience and accessibility that wireless gives them," he said.

The NetComm solution also simplified its billing system. "Users don't have to be signed with a wireless carrier, instead their usage is billed, authenticated and timed automatically by the HS800, totally hassle-free and without having to register their credit card details or waste time filling in application forms," Sereno added.

Security is ensured through SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) authentication, Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP), IP/ MAC address blocking and VPN tunnelling. Users can also monitor how much time they have consumed via a clock in the corner of the screen.

"Customers have found that the service is very simple and effective to use and are especially impressed with being able to pause the session and use their remaining time when it suits," Sereno said.