Pay phone may soon find a new life as wireless-fidelity ''hot spots.''
CFO StaffMarch 17, 2003

The exhortations of Carrot Top notwithstanding, pay phones would seem to be inching closer to extinction one cell phone at a time. But a company called inCode Telecom sees a new role for them, as Wi-Fi (wireless fidelity) “hot spots.” In a pilot program with Bell Canada, inCode is transforming pay phones into hot spots, which are transmission points that link wireless devices to cellular networks. Equipped with Wi-Fi technology, a laptop, PDA, or other wireless device can transmit data at speeds substantially faster than typical wireless connections can, but it must be within about 300 feet of a hot spot.

By transforming their vast pay-phone networks into hot spots, traditional telecom carriers hope to be able to compete with a long list of other companies that see wireless technologies as having vast consumer and corporate appeal. Last December, AT&T, IBM, and Intel teamed up to form Cometa Networks, which plans to create and sell hot-spot network services to ISPs and others that will in turn sell them to businesses and consumers. Earlier last year, Starbucks teamed with Hewlett-Packard and MobiStar to incorporate hot-spot capabilities into thousands of Starbucks stores (T Mobile has subsequently acquired MobiStar’s interest in the venture). Intel’s forthcoming “Centrino” microchip will have Wi-Fi capabilities built in; the company predicts that during the next three years, 30 million Wi-Fi-enabled laptops will be sold, many of them to the “road warriors” who are increasingly extending the reach of corporate networks.

In-Stat/MDR, a technology research firm, says that products designed around the 802.11 standard at the heart of Wi-Fi are proliferating, and prices are “furiously falling.”

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