Wireless Wealth

4 Ways to Begin

There are a number of ways to kick-start your involvement with Wi-Fi, depending on your current business situation, your level of technical proficiency and your ultimate goals for your business:

1. Leverage your planned or existing location. If you currently own (or plan to own) a business that provides a high-traffic, high-loitering location (such as a coffee shop, a barbershop or a laundromat) you can add Wi-Fi services to enhance your core business, generate incremental sales and increase traffic to your location. With today's many pre-configured access points (including Boingo's Hot Spot in a Box), going wireless is as easy as getting a DSL or cable Internet connection and plugging it in to the Hot Spot device.

2. Extend your current line of business. If you already work in computer networking, selling Wi-Fi is an easy way to increase revenue opportunities and expand your customer base. If you're in the start-up phase, consider including this option in your plan. The easiest way to start is to partner with a turnkey systems provider, but you can also devise your own system using off-the-shelf components or building from scratch. Any company that needs a network is a potential wireless network customer.

3. Deploy hot spots as a hot-spot operator. If you don't have your own locations or network installation business, but your strengths are in negotiating with business owners and maintaining those relationships, you can explore the turnkey hot-spot solutions available today. These operate much like Wi-Fi franchises for the hot-spot operator and allow the entrepreneur to establish a branded local service that can be sold into local business and target venues.

4. Become a wireless Internet service provider (WISP). If you are more technically proficient and want to get into the business on a deeper level, consider developing your own turnkey solution that can be re-sold to hot-spot operators looking for quick and easy ways to deploy public Wi-Fi locations. This involves developing a hardware device that combines a Wi-Fi access point, a network access controller, a DHCP (dynamic host configuration protocol) server and a small Web server. You'll also have to integrate that equipment with back-end authentication, authorization and accounting software/services for the hot-spot operator. That requires knowledge of RADIUS (remote authentication dial-in user service) authentication protocols and network management systems, and the willingness to establish a full-fledged service offering with support and network operating center oversight.

Got Wi-Fi?

If you've decided to install a broadband connection in your place of business, you can add a public hot spot to help offset the cost, but you may need to upgrade your service and add some hardware. Here's how:

1. Request three usable IP addresses from your broadband provider. Sometimes called a /29 (slash-29) space, it includes eight IP addresses (three for systems and five usable addresses). The three you'll use are for the DSL or cable modem/router, the router/firewall and the hot-spot device.

2. Add an Ethernet switch. This allows you to split the DSL or cable broadband service for multiple uses. Something like the NetGear FS-105 will run $30 to $40.

3. Add a router with integrated firewall. This separates and protects your private network from the public hot spot and provides an additional DHCP (dynamic host configuration protocol) station for assigning private IP addresses, so you can expand your private LAN at will. It's about $50 to $60 for an SMC Barricade.

4. Choose a hot-spot device. Like the router/firewall, this contains a DHCP server as well as other functions--an access control device to keep unauthorized users off the Internet and a Web server to provide local login pages for your service. These can run from $300 to $700. -S.D.

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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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