Today, CIO Journal has a story on public Wi-Fi and how customers are clogging the networks at Panera, someting that's nothing new to me. And I'm taking a bite out of it. Back in the day when public hotspots were just starting out, only a few of us were even using public Wi-Fi, and locations were not so easy to find. Places like Starbucks and Panera Bread locations offered access, paid at Starbucks vs. the free it is today when T-Mobile was powering it, and Panera which was powered by ICOA.
Sadly, T-Mobile basically dropped out of the hotspot business for the most part keeping only a few locations, and Starbucks turned to AT&T for a solution. T-Mobile's service in reality offered amazing scalability and reliable connectivity and even today, long after the acquisition of Wayport by AT&T, the Starbucks spots have never been the same. ICOA's service at Panera was good until the growth of hotspot usage started to spike and my own experiences at Panera's were so bad that I stopped going to Panera or began bringing my own portable hotspots to breakfast there. The same good to bad experience occured at Sacramento and San Diego International Airports until they changed providers or brought the Wi-Fi in house.
Let's face it, people have a need for speed, but beyond speed, they want reliable connectivity, not slow loading pages, or choppy Skype, VoIP and Video calls. We want DNS that works to get our web pages on our screen, and email to flow fast, so as hotspot usage grew the service levels has never really kept up with it. Now today, with increased usage of conference calls and services like WebEX, Go To Meeting and LiveMeeting part of the business person's everyday life the demand, like with wireless spectrum is starting to outstrip supply.
The same is true at hotels, and largely the problem is understanding. Hotels, especially chain hotels, and chain restaurants, coffee shops and other "public" places where you find WiFi budget and plan their capital expenditures on an annual basis. But Wi-Fi is an operating expense once you get past the sunk cost for hardware and "smarter" sevrices that support on-demand levels are rarely implemented. And there is the rub. Capacity and the ability to get at it.
As a road warrior who needs reliable, business grade Internet access, wired or Wireless, the mobile operators who are proposing WiFi offload so they need to step up and implement services that scale the WiFi because we know that they can't scale their spectrum today, but maybe someday, they will.