Barnes & Noble Goes Wi-Fi

By Eric Griffith

March 09, 2004

Multiple providers will offer access in the national bookstore chain by September, courtesy of the first national rollout by by hotspot wholesaler Cometa.

Hotspot "wholesaler" Cometa Networks was supposed to have opened up a few thousand hotspots by now. However, with actual numbers falling far short of previously announced plans, the company has adopted a "year-by-year" approach to installing its public access Wi-Fi network. Now, in what the company is touting as the "initiation of its national rollout plans," it has just landed a major account to get it started: Barnes & Noble.

The bookseller, which has almost 650 locations in the United States, will be exclusively working with Cometa to get Wi-Fi service installed in its bookstores and cafés. Coverage will most often be storewide rather than just in the Starbucks café's found in about 550 of the B&N locations. (While Starbucks Coffee Shops usually have T-Mobile Hotspot access, the Starbucks found in B&N are mostly franchisees operated by the bookstore chain itself.)

"There are lots of nooks and crannies in Barnes & Noble stores," says Jeff Damir, senior vice president of business development and sales for Cometa. "In Seattle we found [the store] prefers not to be limited to a percentage [of floor space] for coverage."

Damir's reference to Seattle is what the company calls the "Seattle Showcase." After doing an installation in several New York City-based McDonald's restaurants last year, Cometa then concentrated on opening hotspots only in the Seattle area as trials for national rollout. Cometa worked with chains such as Tully's, Equity Office properities, three major shopping centers, some golf courses and country clubs, and even high-end grocery stores. And of course, McDonald's and B&N.

As part of Cometa's "wholesale hotspot" strategy, the network will be open to multiple service providers that would like to provide access to customers. Cometa doesn't have any relationship with end users, but instead leaves that to the companies that effectively outsource the network to Cometa. Currently announced WISPs/carriers using Cometa's network include Sprint PCS, iPass, AT&T Wireless, and AT&T Business Services. (AT&T Consumer Services, the long distance phone company, was working with Cometa but recently decided to go their own way with hotspots).

Founded by major players Intel , IBM , and AT&T and a couple of investors, Cometa said when it launched that it would have 15,000 hotspots open by 2005, but so far that hasn't happened (they'd have to open more than a 1500 a month by January of next year to come close). Damir says "We, as a company, are focused on deploying a national footprint with both national and regional partners ... we're not targeting a specific number. It could be bigger [than 15,000] it could be smaller. We're taking it one year at a time."

B&N also owns B. Dalton bookstores found in malls and the GameStop video game chain, but those stores won't be getting Wi-Fi.



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