Where Travels the Wi-Fi Guy?

By Naomi Graychase

April 02, 2004

Web hosting company CI Host says its new advertisement -- in the form of a traveling power hotspot-user in a Ford Expedition -- is using wireless to further its guerrilla marketing efforts.

While he may not be faster than a speeding bullet, or able to leap tall buildings in a single bound, The Wi-Fi Guy does have two of the most essential elements required of a modern day superhero: a secret identity and the ability to access the Internet anytime, anywhere. Or at least that's what he's hoping to prove.

Starting next week [or maybe later... check his schedule online] The Wi-Fi Guy will be hitting the road in an attempt to prove that one lone ranger really can traverse the wild frontier of the American West without ever losing digital contact with the rest of the world. On April 6, he'll leave Amarillo, Texas, for Albuquerque, N.M. and then he'll journey on to more than a dozen major cities in the Western half of the U.S. including Seattle, Denver, and San Francisco. In keeping with his modern day agenda, the trusty steed upon which he'll ride will be a corporate-sponsored SUV plastered with advertisements for CI Host, his Web hosting provider -- and also his sponsor and employer at his day job.

So what does an Internet service provider get from sponsoring a Wi-Fi roadtrip? "It's a guerrilla marketing effort," says D. Kent Pingel, Public Relations Director at CI Host. "We have a guy going out to the grassroots to find out what people's needs are for Wi-Fi, how they're using their computers. You can't miss our vehicle; it's bright orange with logos all over it."

The Wi-Fi Guy, who boasts a background in music journalism, wants to prove how free all Americans -- not just business people -- are to travel and to use wireless LANs.

"I may tailgate a rock tour," he said. "I thought, 'what traveling act would have the most people following them?' so I googled Phish. Dave Matthews is also really into being high-tech -- one of the first things they do is set up the Wi-Fi around their concert."

Rock stars notwithstanding, the route the Wi-Fi Guy will take and the tasks he'll be trying to accomplish while on the road have more to do with getting business done, than getting mellow in a parking lot before a show. He'll keep in constant e-mail contact with his employer and folks who e-mail him via the Wi-Fi Guy Web site. He'll continue to do his day job from the road; he'll update a blog, do some PR, maybe file some stories, and possibly review some relevant products.

"We've invited companies to send me anything for review -- GPSs, something that keeps Diet Cokes cold or radar detectors. Anything a road warrior needs," he says.

He's starting the trip equipped with a HP Pavilion ze4400 notebook using a Linksys Wireless G Notebook Adaptor, a Palm Pilot Vx, a T-Mobile Hotspots account, a Sierra Wireless AirCard and a RIM Blackberry 7230 handheld from T-Mobile, a Kodak EasyShare DX4530 digital camera, a Kodak Printer Dock 6000, PCTEL Segue Wi-Fi Roaming Client software and Buffalo's 802.11b Wireless USB Keychain Adapter.

CI Host is not new to the world of guerilla marketing. "Last year we found this guy on Ebay who auctioned off advertising on his head. He has our logo permanently tattooed on his head. We've had over 500 new accounts that can be linked back to the human billboard," says Pingel. "We were also the first to advertise on the trunks of a heavy weight boxer -- Evander Holyfield -- when he fought Lennox Lewis. 80 million people saw that fight. I think he won; I know we did."

Obtaining service in remote areas during his month-long journey will be a challenge, but the Wi-Fi Guy is confident that his provider, T-Mobile Hotspot, will come through for him.

"We're looking for anything where we can park our promo vehicle and get access," he says. "Starbucks, McDonald's, hotel lobbies, theaters, art galleries, anywhere I can find a Wi-Fi hookup."

Of course, it's one thing for a pseudo-hero to get paid to drive a free SUV around the country looking for access. But could anyone really do it? Could Phish fans or vacationers or authentic road warriors on a budget really get to the Web when they need to?

"Our budget is unpublished," says the Wi-Fi Guy. "But it's a shoestringI'm kind of the average Joe. I know how to get in a car and drive safely -- and fast -- but I don't know what's under the hood. I'm the same with my laptop. I know how to turn it on and plug in the Wi-Fi card, but that's it. I've learned that Wi-Fi technology helps me in my job. It's accessible and it has a cool factor. It creates a sense of community. It's a conversation piece. If a family were going on vacation and going coast to coast on route 40 or route 66, they could stay in touch with friends and family along the way -- all they have to do is look for the cool Starbucks logo."

It may not be quite that simple for a truly average Joe to get access in the middle of nowhere -- or even in the middle of a bustling downtown -- but the Wi-Fi Guy is about to find out.

In the end, perhaps it doesn't really even matter if uninterrupted nationwide access is a reality yet. The ultimate goal of The Wi-Fi Guy's road trip he says, "is to have fun. See the USA and spread the word."

Check his Web site to find out if the Wi-Fi Guy and his big orange truck will be surfing through your city.



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