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An Eye For Muni Wi-Fi

By Tim Scannell

http://www.wi-fiplanet.com/columns/article.php/3616316/An-Eye-For-Muni-Wi-Fi.htm (Back to article)

As city-wide wireless networks spread and the volume of e-mail increases, in-your-face browser-based messaging may be the best way to get your marketing or critical message to users.

Zach Britton, founder and CEO of messaging solutions provider Front Porch, is hoping an expected surge in municipal Wi-Fi deployments will provide just the right light to attract new users to its messaging platform.

ISPs, which are Front Porch's bread-and-butter, have lost customers who did not see or respond quickly enough to billing messages and credit card renewal warnings, he said.

Subscribers have also walked after missing an alert informing them of a planned service interruption, and then blame the ISP for not being diligent enough in getting the word out.

"If you send someone an e-mail, they may never get it," said Britton. "Or, if they got it, they may open it later in the day."

Missing messages can also affect a company's customer service operation or create billing problems, both of which can hurt revenues.

Alerts and paid advertising travel through the company's PorchLight TCP/IP appliance, which sits on the edge of a network and manages content insertion while users browse the Internet.

The content can be packaged in a variety of ways, ranging from pop-ups to redirections, and can relate to specific Web sites and Web content, explained Britton.

Front Porch messaging avoids the e-mail traffic and appears directly in a viewer's browser window. The technology can even be used to "freeze" a browser until a message is acknowledged, Britton pointed out.

Force-feeding alerts and advertising is important as the flow of e-mail increases and junk messages increases. Right now, about 171 billion messages are transferred each day, said The Radicati Group. More than 70 percent of this traffic consists of spam and other messaging throwaways, the research firm added.

Municipal wireless initiatives in the U.S. are expected to grow from about $88 million this year to $512 million by 2010, according to IDC.

"Although [municipal] wireless will be a niche, the small base it begins with means that the sector will see tremendous growth," said Godfrey Chua, research manager for IDC's wireless and mobile infrastructure group.

Front Porch is betting that its revenue-boosting technology will attract cities and towns.

Many free Wi-Fi networks aren't racking up a lot of users, and cash-strapped towns fret about who will pay the freight for these systems, Britton claimed.

"There is this mania right now among cities and towns that want world-class Wi-Fi networks," he said. "They are asking for quite a bit ... so we are focusing on bringing them some ad revenue to try and offset the costs."