BWireless to launch free hotspot in Toronto, with more to come

BWireless Zones Inc. based in Vancouver is launching a new wireless hotspot in Toronto’s financial district on Monday.

The hotspot, which will be free to users until the end of the year, is the first of three locations that the wireless products and services provider has announced out of 102 zones the company plans to launch in Canada by year’s end.

The Exchange Tower in Toronto will be the first launch site on Monday. Also up for a launch is the Royal Bank Plaza. Meanwhile, the second launch of Ottawa’s Parliament District is planned for later in the year.

The Parliament District had its first, or soft launch, on Thursday without fanfare because BWireless wanted to work out the bugs before its official launch in a couple of weeks.

“With these launches you have to be careful and make sure the systems work well before you have one hundred people down there trying it out because you want to make sure that you do a good job,” said Emil Bosnjak, CEO and founder of BWireless Zones.

Bosnjak said that when he started the business by “basically selling cell phones out of the trunk of my car in 1990” he had no idea how big the company would get.

“I just thought wireless was just the greatest thing back then and I still do,” he said.

He added that he started out by focusing on providing corporate accounts with wireless devices and eventually built up a clientele of corporate accounts in Vancouver.

“I opened my first BWireless store in 1993 and then basically it just grew organically through the years, opening stores almost every year after that and then expanding into Ontario in 2000,” Bosnjak said.

He added that although U.S. wireless hotspot users are a little more conditioned to having wireless LAN (WLAN) locations at their fingertips, Canadian users aren’t quite there yet.

“[To them] it’s a bonus. It’s something you show [customers] when they come to the store, it’s new technology…we’re just trying to get mobile professionals and our clientele to adopt wireless and to adopt this type of technology,” Bosnjak said.

He added that it’s important to BWireless Zones to offer the service at no charge for the first little while because it wants to make sure that Canadians get a chance to experiment with the technology.

“I know a lot of companies have gone straight to a fee model but I really believe that unless Canadians understand the technology and can try it and use it and it’s simple…if all those things aren’t in place it’s going to be difficult to keep them long term,” Bosnjak said. “It’s just offering a service that seems to get people excited in coming in and sitting around and using it and trying it and talking about it.”

Stamford, Conn.-based Gartner Dataquest Inc. is predicting a rise in access to wireless locations. In a report entitled Public Wireless LAN Access: U.S. Market Forecasts 2002-2007, the research firm highlighted the fact that the number of U.S. hotspot users are on the rise. According to the report, hotspot locations in the U.S. will increase from 14,717 in 2002 to more than 300,000 in 2006 and the number of hot spot users will climb to 50 million by 2006.