Eircom Hotspot in a Box

31 Mar 2005

Product: WLAN for SMEs
Price: €20-€50
Eircom may have its detractors but one area it is difficult to fault the company on is marketing. Hotspot in a Box (HSB), a wireless local area network (WLAN) product for SMEs, is a perfect example. It is very easy to set up your own WLAN but what if your business is a hotel or cafe and you want to charge people to use it? HSB allows you to do this: in one package, you will get everything need to set up and run such a service.

The ‘box’ in question contains a Netopia-branded wireless ADSL router and assorted cables — power supply, telephone and Ethernet. The router — a small light box about the same size and twice the thickness of an A5 desk diary — is what converts your DSL service into an internet connection that can be used by users of Wi-Fi-enabled laptops and PDAs. What HSB doesn’t give you is the DSL broadband connection itself. In other words you must already have a DSL Eircom account for the system to work.

Setting up the system couldn’t have been simpler. We connected the router to the power supply and then to the DSL wall jack and, hey presto, our wireless unit was ready for action. The router also contains four Ethernet ports, which means you can also use it to
create a conventional wired LAN and hang devices off it such as printers and PCs.

Logging on to the service from a PDA or laptop was just as straightforward. On our wireless-enabled laptop, we set the network name to Eircom in the settings menu. We then fired up the web browser and the Eircom Welcome page immediately came up. The router communicates with an Eircom database and requires a valid login and password before providing the connection to the internet. These are provided through wireless access vouchers that come with the system. We entered our username and password from one of these and away we went.

In terms of bandwidth, the service that you’ll get will be as fast or slow as your current DSL connection and of course the speed will decrease according to the number of people using the internet at any given time.

HSB comes in two models — Agent and Host. The agent option is aimed at those that want to generate revenue from the service; the host at those who simple want to set up a WLAN for their own use or that of employees. If you take the agent route, you agree to revenue share with Eircom through credit cards and vouchers/ scratch cards. In this case, HSB will cost you €20 (ex Vat) in addition to your broadband charges. Taking the host option means you supply wireless broadband internet access to end users via 30-minute free-access vouchers. This non-revenue share option will cost you a set-up fee of €50 (ex Vat) plus monthly rental of €50 (ex Vat). Users pay for their DSL connection seperate to this price.

There is a variety of charging mechanisms for logging on — free-access vouchers, scratch cards, online credit card payment or subscription. The end user can buy access via a scratch card with a recommended retail price of €10 for one hour or €20 for 24 hours. These cards are purchased from Eircom in batches of 20 — Eircom sells them at a 25pc discount so the customer is buying them at 75pc and selling them on to customers at 100pc. End users can also pay a monthly subscription of €65 per month for use in any Eircom hotspot location (of which there are now hundreds).

Eircom claims the system confers a number of benefits on hotspot owners, for example the fact that all charges for installation and ordering of vouchers/scratch cards appear on their Eircom bill. Also, using prepaid scratch cards/vouchers allows the venue to choose who uses the service and also sets a time limit for usage.

A couple of provisos are worth noting. You can use your existing broadline line for HSB but it is not advisable if you require that line for everyday business use. If this is the case, you will need an extra line to run the service. Secondly you are tied into a 12-month contract — which, to be fair, is made very clear in Eircom’s promotional literature.

Many cafes, hotels, bars and other public venues already operate Wi-Fi hotspots as a way of attracting new custom as well as giving their existing customers the broadband connectivity they are looking for. There are commercial hotspot operators out there that can install this service for you but for those who wish to do it themselves, Eircom’s HSB now provides that opportunity.
HSB is available via the broadband freephone number 1800 512 128.

By Brian Skelly