Wireless Wealth

The Wi-Fi revolution is coming. Find out how your business can get in on the ground floor and rope in profits.

If you've been watching the technology industry at all lately, you've likely heard the word "Wi-Fi." Over the past two years, it has quickly moved from a relatively obscure technology in the land of network administrators to one of the hottest growth opportunities in the tech sector.

Wi-Fi is fast becoming the industry standard for wireless networking and is being used in homes and businesses to untether the network and provide more flexibility. In public spaces, Wi-Fi provides consumers and business travelers with wireless Internet access at broadband speeds. Wi-Fi adoption is accelerating as manufacturers such as Dell, HP, Intel, Sony, Toshiba and others are equipping laptops, PDAs and other electronic devices for wireless network connections. There are already millions of devices--in a variety of different styles and formats--looking for Wi-Fi networks to latch on to.

While the use of Wi-Fi in homes and offices is skyrocketing--to the delight of equipment manufacturers--there also are broad-based entrepreneurial opportunities providing wireless Internet access in public spaces. Because it complements their main lines of business, established and well-financed companies like AT&T, IBM, Intel, T-Mobile and Toshiba have various partnerships and plans to install tens of thousands of "hot spots" (public Wi-Fi locations) across the country--and perhaps hundreds of thousands around the globe. But the key link in that value chain will inevitably be the small to midsized businesses that already own the venues where this service can be provided.


Whether you want to turn your existing retail business into a Wi-Fi hot spot or make that part of your start-up plan, it can be a relatively low-cost proposition.

Whether you want to turn your existing retail business into a Wi-Fi hot spot or make that part of your start-up plan, it can be a relatively low-cost proposition. If you partner with aggregators like Boingo Wireless or with hot-spot operators like NetNearU, Pronto Networks or Surf and Sip, you don't even need a technical background or much day-to-day involvement in the network's operation. A wireless network can help drive traffic to your location, give you digitally acquired insights into customer preferences, and even be used as a medium for advertising or merchandising your other goods and services.

By partnering with hot-spot owners and operators, Boingo alone has already built a roaming network of more than 1,400 hot spots in airports, hotels, coffee shops and other high-traffic locations in 300 U.S. cities. But according to Boingo's research, there are nearly 2 million potential hot-spot locations in the United States. Your business could provide one or more of those sites.

Even if you don't have a location, you can still participate in the Wi-Fi opportunity by making a business out of installing and maintaining hot spots, or offering other value-added services to hot-spot operators and wireless users. Partners like those already mentioned can help you launch your business. Many companies, including Colubris Networks, Nomadix and Vernier Networks, provide hardware that makes rolling out hot spots a breeze.

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This article was originally published in the July 2003 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Wireless Wealth.

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