Hotspot Road Trip, Part 5 - Page 2

By Jeff Vance

October 27, 2004

In August, brought its 500th hotspot online at the Baker Truck Corral in Baker City, Oregon. The company also recently inked a roaming deal with Sprint.

"With this Wi-Fi service agreement, Sprint and continue to help our customers stay connected, whether they're in an airport, at a hotel, or out on the open road," says Wes Dittmer, general manager of WLAN services at Sprint. CEO Scott Moscrip adds that this partnership would extend the network's reach beyond truckers to other travelers.

"This is an obvious compliment to our ability to service mobile sales forces, RVers, and other non-transportation oriented users who frequent truck stops and travel plazas during their time on the road," Moscrip says.

Flying J's Brian McCaul believes that competition is a good thing in this sector. "Typical business travelers have ubiquitous coverage because they're in airports, business-class hotels, and conference centers," he says. "Truckers don't have that luxury, especially out west, so the more options they have, the better." McCaul believes that there's enough demand to support two competing truck-stop networks, and he notes that the demographic groups that Flying J and serve insulate them from some of the issues that other hotspot WISPs face.

For truckers, even if a small town along their route has a hotspot, it isn't necessarily useful for them because a trip off of the interstate and into town to visit a Starbucks hotspot is impractical. Not only do coffee houses cater more to office workers than truckers, but there's also the basic matter of where to park the truck. And since time is always a factor, many truckers want to multi-task, checking email during lunch or while the truck is being refueled. Moreover, truck stops are insulated from competition from the free sites cropping up in many cities. Again, it's just not practical for highway travelers, and especially truckers, to seek them out. As long as the price point is reasonable, McCaul believes that there will be plenty of truck-stop Wi-Fi patrons.

For the moment, Wi-Fi truck stops are focusing on access, but according to McCaul, a number of new wireless applications will soon follow—everything from asset tracking and telematics to automated trip planning apps that plot affordable routes based on fuel prices and tolls.

With Wi-Fi in place, the future of the high-tech trucker could involve linked systems communicating to one another. So, the in-vehicle safety system could tell the route planning system that the driver has been on the road long enough to need a break, and an alert can then be sent to the driver to pull off at the next exit. All of these systems could be swapping data over Wi-Fi. Even the simple capability of wirelessly sending mileage, load, and vehicle information to each state's weight station could save truckers significant time and money.

Jeff Vance is a freelance technology writer and consultant, who focuses on trends in wireless communications, next-generation networking, and Internet infrastructure. If you have ideas about hotspots he should visit or questions he should investigate while on the road, you can contact him at

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