Ontario AOL users get free Wi-Fi service

AOL Canada Inc. and Spotnik Mobile announced on Thursday an agreement to offer AOL members a free trial of wireless Internet access at Spotnik’s various hot spot locations across Ontario.

The offer made by the companies officially began on Thursday and will last until May 27, 2004. In this six-month time period, AOL members are encouraged to take advantage of the free month of Wi-Fi service, said Andrew Zimakas the general manager of emerging markets at AOL Canada in Toronto.

“And after their one month free trial is finished, they will be eligible for a 20 per cent off discounted rate for whatever plan they choose from Spotnik, be it an hourly plan, a daily plan or a monthly plan,” Zimakas added.

With this offering, AOL is going after the mainstream Internet user that hasn’t yet embraced the relatively new Wi-Fi technology as quickly as many mobile professionals and students have, he said.

For now the service is being offered solely in Ontario – which is home to a high concentration of AOL members – but is available to AOL users from across the country who travel to the province, Zimakas said. He added that AOL is excited about the plans that Spotnik has in place to branch off across Canada in the near future.

Mark Wolinsky, co-CEO at Toronto-based Spotnik Mobile, said that Spotnik is focusing on deploying Wi-Fi services in its core market – Ontario – but it plans to spread its reach.

“We are working towards a roll-out plan with our partner Telus in providing services across Canada. So what you’ll see is a lot more Spotnik in the rest of Canada as we proceed through 2004,” Wolinsky added.

He said Spotnik is looking at this agreement as a way to reach a whole new segment of customers.

“People who are home-based Internet customers, get them out into the hot spot environment and get them trying our service and experiencing what Wi-Fi and Internet access is like beyond the home environment,” he said.

Wolinsky explained that although current Wi-Fi deployment and usage numbers are good, it will be just a matter of time before more people are going to feel comfortable using the technology beyond traditional venues.

Zimakas agreed with Wolinsky that it may take some time for new users to feel comfortable with Wi-Fi, adding that when it comes to new technology, there is often a “chicken-or-egg phenomenon” at play.

“You need to ramp up to a certain critical mass usage level. There tends to be a lot of skeptics that discredit a business model because they don’t see adoption and they don’t see scale and yet you obviously need to get critical mass before you can achieve a sustainable business model,” Zimakas explained.

Recent research from Pyramid Research (PYR) LLC indicates that global Wi-Fi will see those usage levels.

John Yunker, an analyst with Cambridge, Mass.-based PYR told ITWorldCanada.com in July that the next five years will show a dramatic increase in global Wi-Fi usage, climbing up to over 700 million users.

Yunker said one surprise derived from PYR’s report was the fact that telecom executives – thought to have been threatened by Wi-Fi, as the unlicensed service is not something operators have a monopoly on and can’t be tightly controlled like other services – are actually embracing the technology.

“Overwhelmingly, no matter what region of the world you looked at, [telecom executives] view Wi-Fi as a positive development for the industry. And even when we zeroed in on operators specifically, 90 per cent of them viewed Wi-Fi as good for the industry,” Yunker said.

For a compete list of Spotnik’s hot spot locations visit www.spotnikmobile.com. AOL Canada can be found online at www.aol.ca.