Buying Wi-Fi Minutes

By Eric Griffith

April 01, 2004

A new Web site hopes to become the one-stop shopping center for travelers looking to purchase pre-paid hotspot access for the limited periods of time.

Most public access hotspots want users to subscribe to their network to make sure cash is coming in on a regular basis, but most know that travelers sometimes need at most only a day -- maybe even an hour -- of access. For those users, the hotspot providers frequently offer pre-paid services.

If you like to plan ahead, wouldn't it be nice to buy such pre-paid services before you set foot out the door?

That's the plan of fledgling site WiFiMinutes. It's a sister site of Wi-FiRates, itself a source for comparing and contrasting the prices of hotspots around the world. Both are run by Chris Barry, president of Syracuse, N.Y.-based CNY Ventures.

Barry describes his latest venture best: "For providers, it offers a new outlet to sell their access plans and reach a broader market, and for Wi-Fi end-users, it offers a chance to compare and purchase pre-paid access plans from several providers in one, centralized location."

As of the official launch this week, WiFiMinutes has five partner WISPs: AirRover Networks and WiFidirect in the US; FatPort and U-Mobile Networks in Canada, and Trustive in Europe. Barry is working with other providers now and hopes to have 15 to 20 total partners by the end of the year.

"The site focuses more on smaller networks with pre-pay plans," says Barry. "And on the niche market of users who are new or don't need a monthly [subscription, they ] just need sixty minutes of time while on vacation or a business trip."

The site isn't selling roaming here -- if you use WiFiMinutes to buy a code for Trustive, you can only use it on Trustive's network (or that of Trustive's own roaming partners). It doesn't mean you can use the same code on any WiFiMinutes partner.

However, Barry notes that some of his partners WISPs are looking at sales at WiFiMinutes as a test case, to see how they could do with sales in North America -- ostensibly where the majority of sales will come from.

Barry has worked with the vendors in various ways, either spending the money up front to buy codes that he will now resell at retail price (no higher than what the provider would charge) or getting codes fronted to him by providers that he will reimburse when they sell.

Barry is a one-man-show at CNY Ventures, at least so far. He created Wi-FiRates late last year in an attempt to make a comprehensive listing of all costs users could expect from hotspot providers. His plan was to sell advertising on the site but he admits that's a difficult way to make money. He hit on the idea for WiFiMinutes -- he compares it to the multi-million dollar business in pre-paid phone cards that are sold each year. Wi-FiRates will continue to run, pushing traffic to WiFiMinutes.

Through the month of April 2004, Barry will be giving away a code for period of free access every day to anyone who signs up with an e-mail address at the site.

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