Kinko's Opens First Hotspot

By Eric Griffith

September 18, 2003

The announced deal to put T-Mobile Hotspots in every location gets off the ground today with the first going live in Dallas, with northern California, New York and New Jersey to follow soon.

In April, Kinko's and T-Mobile Hotspot announced plans to put hotspots in Kinko's locations around the country. Because both companies call Dallas, Texas, home (the main T-Mobile USA office is in Bellevue, Wash.), the first of those locations goes live today at the Kinko's store on Greenville Avenue there. That launch will feature a "cutting of the Ethernet cord" by company executives.

Jeff Heyman, retail vice president for Kinko's, is one of the execs who'll be there, scissors in hand. He told Wi-Fi Planet that the Greenville store is the perfect launch location because it "addresses a lot of mobile professionals."

That road warrior marketplace is one of the big differentiators for T-Mobile in getting Kinko's as a partner. While the company's hotspot service is available in many airport lounges which might be frequented by business travelers, its largest partners have been cafés: Starbucks coffee shops (2,300 locations to date) and Borders Books & Music (320 locations to date).

Heyman gives a lot of credit to the café partners since they were smart enough "to get there first.... the difference with Kinko's is that we cater to mobile professionals today, and we do it with an environment conducive to them being on the road 24/7. We have counters for users to plug in to power laptops, there's extra help for those who need to print, collate or bind documents.

"Starbucks is cool because you can have coffee while surfing, but if you want to do business, you go to Kinko's.

He also points out that the nearness of many Kinko's outlets to universities will help drive students to use the hotspots. T-Mobile Hotspots' vice president and general manager, Joe Sims, says they'll be making announcements soon about some large college campuses where T-Mobile is installing public access Wi-Fi.

T-Mobile and Kinko's plan to have 170 hotspots open by the end of October in the rest of Dallas and in northern California, New York and New Jersey. Locations in Los Angeles, Chicago, and Washington D.C. should be live by the end of the year. By April 2004, they expect to have all 1,100 locations with Wi-Fi. (The one exception is the small Kinko's branch in its own corporate headquarters in Dallas, but the main office is already outfitted with Wi-Fi anyway.)

Kinko's locations already offer connections for users who bring in their laptops to connect to an ISP via dial-up, as well as their own broadband connected workstations. Heyman thinks the Wi-Fi access, used by mobile pros with their own equipment, will probably eat into the former; the workstations are used for last minute document changes for the most part. They plan to track what gets the most use over the next few months and will remove or add connections as needed. They're still in discussions on whether to sell or rent any Wi-Fi cards or equipment -- the concern is the need for more advanced technical support than Kinko's personal can supply.

Still, Kinko's employees (called team members by the company) will be getting training to provide assistance to users of the T-Mobile hotspot.

T-Mobile Hotspot prices are $29.99 a month for unlimited ($19.99 if you have a T-Mobile wireless phone) or $9.99 for a 24 hour day pass.

Currently T-Mobile Hotspot, which has the largest public access Wi-Fi network in the U.S, does not allow any roaming onto its network, nor does it have partnerships so subscribers can roam on other hotspot networks.

General manager Sims says "We've declared publicly that we will have roaming, both in and out [of our network]. What keeps us from doing it to date is the quality of service we provide for our subscribers. That's key -- not many can step up to that."

T-Mobile is known for making sure all of its hotspot locations use a full T1 line for backhaul -- a tactic seen by some as far too expensive. Sims says other issues include working with other back-end billing systems that there aren't very many hotspots out side of T-Mobile's.

"We have to have something to trade," says Sims. "We're in discussions with several of them now."

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