With new WiFi phone shipping, Vonage should become a Wi-Fi provider, too

Here's an idea for your morning coffee. Vonage ought to become a WISP (Wireless Internet Service Provider).
Written by Russell Shaw, Contributor

Here's an idea for your morning coffee. Vonage ought to become a WISP (Wireless Internet Service Provider). Plenty of WISPs are for sale. They ought to buy some, affiliate with others.

Becoming a Wireless Internet Service Provider would offer Vonage a growth platform for its  long-anticipated UTStarcom F1000 Wi-Fi VoIP Phone - which finally goes on sale today. The best price you'll be able to get it for (at least up until it shows up on eBay, will be $80. That's over the Vonage site, after an instant rebate.

The feature-packed phone is appealing. I like the fact that three-way calling caller ID and voice mail comes pre-configured.

But here's the caveat, and it's a honkin' big one: The phone will only work in areas covered by public hot spots. Emphasis on the word public. Fee-based locations such as T-Mobile Wi-Fi available in your local Starbucks, will not work for this phone.

For this phone to take off, there need to be more public Wi-Fi hot spots than they are. Philadelphia, San Francisco, New Orleans and others must lead the way, while fighting off the highly territorial incumbent phone companies.

But not every city will have such a formidable free Wi-Fi cloud. Vonage should get into this business. Why not become a WISP, charge non-Vonage users typical Wi-Fi access rates, but allow Vonage users free access? Vonage could do this for notebook-using customers, as well as Starcom users.

Such channels would also enable Vonage to promote its services. You log on to Vonage's Wi-Fi network via non-Vonage equipment, and then maybe you get a "sign up for Vonage" screen with an offer of say, a free month.

And what about fighting the entrenched phone companies that are already battling municipalities and existing public Wi-Fi networks? Vonage already has a dog in that hunt. Becoming a WISP would simply open a new front in the battle against big telecom.

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