Noment Takes 802.11 to School

By Naomi Graychase

September 11, 2003

Even though it says wireless is not the primary means students use to go online, this provider says it's a novelty on the cusp of getting big. They just want to convince schools they should be the company deploying it.

It was only a matter of time before doing research in your dorm room or library became as passé as using a card catalog to find a book. It seems that time is nearly upon us. Thanks to technologies created by public-access gateway and software designer Nomadix of Westlake Village, Calif., and deployed by communications service provider Noment Networks of Marietta, Ga., college students will be arriving on some campuses this fall where they can surf the Web while sitting by the pool, hanging out in a student lounge, or while waiting for friends in the foyer of their dormitory.

Of course, if you believe the glossy brochures which pitch Noment's Wi-Fi services to the privately managed multi-dwelling units (MDU) the company contracts with in 20 different states, you can expect college co-eds to be lounging by the pool sipping blender drinks and swapping MP3s. However, the real life experience is a bit less sleek.

As Ken Hoffman, COO and executive vice president of operations for Noment Networks explains, "It's not really stylish folks sitting by the pool with their laptops. In reality, it's mangled-haired college students in wrinkled clothes sitting and doing projects in the common area or in the shade by the pool."

Noment, uses Nomadix technology -- Access Gateways running the Nomadix Network Service Engine (NSE) software -- to provide both wired and wireless access to about 20,000 users within the MDU market. The company is rolling out this new Wi-Fi access for students at select universities across the country as a sort of icing-on-the-cake experience. As Hoffman says, "Hotspots are an amenity that I throw into the bigger picture. It's an add-on, a cooler thing."

Wi-Fi access is not the primary form of access for any of Noment's clients, and it may be some time before it is. "Wireless is wonderful right now for those who choose to use it," says Hoffman. "It's still kind of like the cool new thing. It's not integrated yet into their lives. In that student market, there's a very small number who are using wireless. It's still a little novelty. But we're right on the cusp of it getting big."

Because large institutions often can't house all of their enrolled undergraduates, students often rent rooms in private dormitories near campus. Noment currently contracts with the owners and operators of these private housing units who buy access to Noment's in-room wired Internet service along with the Wi-Fi hotspots strategically located in and around the dormitory. The property owners then pass along the cost of the service to their tenants. Florida State, Louisiana State, University of Arizona, University of Central Florida, and universities in California, Texas and Minnesota are among the schools where students will be found this fall surfing the Web or swapping files wirelessly using hotspots owned by Noment.

So far, Noment has yet to contract with any institution of higher learning to provide all of the access for on-campus dormitories. But the company has set its sights on this market and hopes to make inroads soon. "The only stumbling block [to getting these campus-wide contracts]," says Hoffman, "is that a gigantic bureaucracy is aligning with a small, enterprising, entrepreneurial group. It's hard to blend these two unless they've really put the money aside and made it a priority."

The technology which serves as the backbone for Noment's offerings was developed by Nomadix, a company with whom Noment has had a long-term and closely-knit relationship. That mutually beneficial vendor/client relationship, says John DiGiovanni, director of marketing at Nomadix, has enabled his company to provide a seamless service. Or, as Hoffman says, "Nomadix builds a box that does all my needs and I throw it into play and I break it and we give them realtime feedback, so they fix it -- his guys and my guys IM each other. It's that kind of a relationship, and it has worked out extremely well."

The NSE Core software allows clients to generate revenue from their networks. That software sits on every one of the Nomadix access gateways, and contained within the software is what Nomadix describes as a "hassle-free connectivity experience," coupled with a backend infrastructure for providing revenue.

Despite the aggressive deployment of Noment's hotspots for this school year, the on-campus Wi-Fi market is still largely up for grabs. Neither company feels particularly challenged by any one competitor in this realm, although when deploying a network, DiGiovanni recognizes that Cisco is a force to be reckoned with, but as Hoffman says, "In the world of hotspots, there's too much competition to even call it competition."

It's still anybody's game--a game which may soon see its winners sporting Varsity letter jackets.



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