Wi-Fi marketer changes Canadian leader


Vex Corp. has quietly installed a new Canadian leader for the Wi-Fi marketing company in hopes that of turning around its halting operations here.

David Perl, who had been responsible for Vex Canada’s business development, took over as country manager in mid-April from Asif Khan.

Khan had hoped to open some 5,000 ad-supported free hotspots in fast food chains, hotels and airports by the end of this year, a target not nearly met.

In an interview Wednesday Perl said Vex Canada could count 11 customers – some still in trials – with 26 locations.

However, thanks to a more flexible business plan he initiated after taking over, the company has signed six more customers who will have about 220 hotspots when fully deployed. Perl wouldn’t identify the organizations because they will be making their own announcements in July.

Despite the company’s struggles, he insists that the free Wi-Fi model is here to stay.

“The consumer wants free. The consumer does not want to pay for Wi-Fi any more.”
Coincidentally, also on Wednesday Starbucks Corp. announced that on July 1 it will switch from paid to free Wi-Fi in over 700 of its Canadian coffee outlets.

A veteran hotspot developer who has worked for a number of companies including AT&T Wireless and Boingo in the U.S. and Nokia Group here, Montreal-based Perl said he isn’t one to make grand predictions. However he did say that his target is to sign enough customers to open 250 hotspots a quarter.

Brazlian-based Vex Corp., says it markets both ad-sponsored and paid hotspot packages in 57 countries. Most of the hotspots are in South American and European airports, hotels, restaurants, universities, and business centers.

Vex Canada acts as integrator, finding advertisers and negotiating connectivity and Cisco Systems Inc. access points for customers if they don’t already have connectivity. The company also provides Web management software for patrons to log on, where they would see ads from sponsors.

“We’ve made some progress” since the Canadian division was launched, Perl said. However, he added, “it didn’t work very well … Certain things were not done properly and a lot of things were lost.”

For example, Vex Canada was unwilling to let customers decide who could advertise on their Web sites. That was problematic for some organizations who didn’t want competitors on the Wi-Fi site, Perl said. Now it’s more flexible on that point.

In addition, Vex Canada can now offer customers the ability to limit the online time of users either by time or though a coupon. Initially users could stay online all day.

“These are things we didn’t do before,” Perl said. “It was basically, ‘This is the system.’”

With the changes Perl’s more optimistic about Vex Canada’s future. The free Wi-Fi model, now being adopted by Starbucks Corp. in North America, is pushing aside paid wireless access, he said.

“People are used to walking in their house and popping their laptop open and getting wireless. When they go to a restaurant or an establishment they want free wireless.” Meanwhile those in the hospitality industry charging for access aren’t making money any more, he claimed.

At Toronto’s Pearson International Airport there’s a paid Wi-Fi system available, he said. Instead, he said, many businessmen camp outside an airline lounge, where first-class or business flyers get free access, and snare free service. That’s proof, he said, that free wireless draws business.

He agreed that free Wi-Fi- isn’t as common here as it is in the U.S. “We’re behind the U.S. by at least a year and a half. Canadians wait for something to be proven in the U.S. before they do it here.”

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