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April 1, 2005

Eircom Targets Hotspot Venues

By Nancy Gohring

Eircom is offering cafes and other venues a Hotspot in a Box service in Ireland: Venues buy an access point from Eircom which is configured to link back to Eircom’s authentication and payment systems. Eircom essentially sells sign-in vouchers to the cafe at a 25 percent discount. The cafe in turn sells the vouchers to end users. Eircom hotspot subscribers can also use the hotspots. Cafes can also opt to pay Eircom 50 per month and offer customers 30-minute free-access vouchers. In both cases, the cafe pays for its own DSL line for backhaul.

This is not a particularly good deal. While it takes care of billing and potentially draws existing Eircom hotspot customers into the venue, it appears that there is no setup or ongoing technical support. Venues also have to charge customers an exorbitant 10 per hour if they want to earn any share of the revenue. To be fair, that price is fairly standard in Ireland for hotspot access but it doesn’t allow venues the flexibility of charging what they like.

Bitbuzz, a hotspot operator that offers to build and maintain networks for venues, isn’t worried about the potential new competition. BT began making a similar offering over a year ago and while Bitbuzz was initially concerned about the potential competition, it didn’t ultimately make a difference, said Alex French, operations director at Bitbuzz. The Eircom and BT offerings could affect Bitbuzz’s efforts at winning customers on the low-end of the coffee shop market, but French doesn’t expect to notice much an impact. Bitbuzz pays for and installs the access points and asks locations to buy a certain amount of network usage time each month. The venue can choose whether to give access to customers for free or charge any fee they like for access.

The Hotspot in a Box may be part of a larger change in hotspot strategies at Eircom. In December, the company introduced free access to hotspots that were delivered from Eircom pay phones. I noticed yesterday that at least one of those hotspots now requires a fee for access and I’ve heard that some of the other phone booth hotspots have gone down or are also now charging fees for access. I spoke with an Eircom press representative a couple of weeks ago who said the company was re-evaluating the phone booth concept and he wasn’t able to give me additional details at the time.

Editor’s note: Please note that an earlier version had Eircom offering a 75 percent discount on vouchers. Thanks to Alex for the correction.

Posted by nancyg at April 1, 2005 4:37 PM

Categories: hotspots

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