What makes a good hot-spot location? The best is someplace with a built-in audience and a high number of repeat customers. You should put less emphasis on using Wi-Fi to draw new crowds, as the added promotion will probably cost more than it's worth. Find locations with established foot traffic, especially if they're also high-loitering locations where people sit for a while--like coffee shops, train stations and airports. Or target a premium location along the travel ribbon, where businesspeople on the road gather--airports, hotels, restaurants adjacent to hotels and so on. Wireless is invisible, so no matter what, make sure you put up signs to promote the hot spot.
Understanding more about Wi-Fi users can help you identify the best places to locate a hot spot. There are three primary kinds of Wi-Fi users:
- Business travelers: They're constantly looking for ways to connect to their homes or offices to get e-mail and access to files. According to the Department of Transportation, there are 27 million business travelers with laptops traversing the United States. Some of these users buy the connectivity themselves, and some are on enterprise connection plans.
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- Local subscribers: They use public Wi-Fi in addition to or as a substitute for broadband and visit the same hot spot (such as a particular coffee shop) several times a week. Most local Wi-Fi plans have unlimited access for around $20 to $30 per month, so this is less expensive than installing cable or DSL at home for $40 to $50 per month.
- Occasional surfers: These users catch a few minutes here and there but don't have a set pattern. The cost of the connection isn't important to them because they don't connect frequently enough to incur huge charges. To generate consistent sales, though, you're better off targeting other users.
CEDX Corp. has been installing all kinds of networks since 1997. Founded by Craig Plunkett, 40 (pictured, using Wi-Fi on the go), the company has designed and installed both wired and wireless networks. Despite losing his largest account in the World Trade Center attack, Plunkett says the company will hit sales of half a million dollars this year.
The East Northport, New York, company rebounded from 9/11 due in large part to its expertise with Wi-Fi networks. CEDX uses the highly flexible NetNearU Wi-Fi access point hardware to roll out networks for both public hot spots (typically owned by CEDX) and private corporations. Once in place, Plunkett uses the back-end services of NetNearU to provide exceptional customer service. With a Web-enabled monitoring system, CEDX can watch the activity and status of each hot spot on every network it has deployed.
Plunkett is quick to share one secret of his success: industry partnerships. "Besides NetNearU, we also have partnerships with the local carriers," he says. "They point us to new accounts, and we install their services. We resell DSL, e-mail services and Web hosting, plus we do Web development. We really aim to be a one-stop shop." -D.W.