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Why-Fi?

Why-Fi?

Disclaimer: I have no personal, professional or financial interest in Verizon Wireless. To my knowledge, I have no friends, acquaintances or relatives who are employed by Verizon. I have no opinion about the merit of Verizon's services compared to those of its competitors. No one at Verizon or any of its representative agencies is aware that I'm writing anything about the company or its services.

Whew. OK, with that out of the way perhaps I can say, without raising any suspicions of graft or collusion, that I'm a huge fan of Verizon's 3G broadband Internet access service. The reason? It's doing precisely what it's supposed to do. It's making my life easier.

As a frequent business traveler, I was, until recently, a slave to Wi-Fi. And it bugged me. Being dependent on Wi-Fi hot spots is lousy when you spend an inordinate amount of time in airports. Aside from going through what, more often than not, was a hassle with the setup, there was the cost annoyance. I could really identify with the issues raised in a story Linda Rosencrance wrote last month about a feud between Boston's Logan Airport and Continental Airlines over charging for Wi-Fi access [QuickLink 56048]. As that story pointed out, it's ridiculous to have to pay a daily rate for Internet access at airports. "How often do I spend a full day at the airport?" analyst Jack Gold noted. "I'm there for 30 minutes before my flight or between connections." And he nailed the consequence: If airport authorities persist with this "extortion," users will find alternatives, like cellular broadband services.

I was fortunate in that my company provided that very option. Now I carry a PC card that enables me to connect to Verizon's (not so cleverly named) BroadbandAccess network, and life is sweet. Sitting in a plane on the tarmac at O'Hare for two hours due to a weather delay a couple weeks ago was made bearable by the fact that I was as productive as I would have been if I'd been sitting in my office.

Of course, that sort of productivity gain doesn't come cheap. Verizon recently lowered the monthly fee for unlimited access from US$79.99 to US$59.99, but don't let that fool you. After tacking on the various taxes, government surcharges and other fees, we're paying US$71 and change per person. Matt Smith, Computerworld's CFO, is as affable and accommodating as they come, but he's skeptical of the value of broadband access. He's convinced that a BlackBerry is sufficient for the needs of most of us, and he's probably right. On the other hand, when you pay 10 bucks a pop at airports for Wi-Fi access and another 10 bucks a night at hotels for high-speed connectivity, if you travel a lot that US$71 can begin to look pretty good.

In any case, at least there's now a viable alternative to Wi-Fi for anyone who can justify the cost. And it's clear that an alternative was needed. A recent Gartner study found that only 25 percent of U.S. business travelers use Wi-Fi hot spots. The need for more flexible billing and payment methods was one factor cited by the report's author, since business travelers often can't count on getting reimbursed for hot spot charges when Wi-Fi isn't included in their companies' contracts with telecommunications providers.

With a broadband access plan, that's not an issue. Neither is the annoyance. Increasingly, that will put a big "Why?" in Wi-Fi.

Don Tennant is editor in chief of Computerworld US. You can contact him at don_tennant@computerworld.com.


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