CBS Fires Up Huge Wi-Fi Hotspot In Midtown Manhattan - InformationWeek

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11/15/2007
11:12 AM
Eric Ogren
Eric Ogren
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CBS Fires Up Huge Wi-Fi Hotspot In Midtown Manhattan

The hotspot will range from Times Square all the way up to Central Park, and stretch between 6th and 8th Avenues. CBS is providing access to the network for free, as long as you don't mind watching a few ads here and there. Will this succeed where other muni-Wi-Fi efforts fa

The hotspot will range from Times Square all the way up to Central Park, and stretch between 6th and 8th Avenues. CBS is providing access to the network for free, as long as you don't mind watching a few ads here and there. Will this succeed where other muni-Wi-Fi efforts failed?The mega-hotspot has the very original name of CBS Mobile Zone and is a pilot project CBS is testing in conjunction with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and New York City Transit. According to the press release, CBS wants to "test the potential communications capabilities of Wi-Fi technology." I think Wi-Fi's capabilities are pretty well known at this point. What CBS and its partners probably meant to say is, test how customers respond to free ad-based Internet access that peppers users with pitches from local businesses.

Here's the spiel:

New Yorkers who access the "CBS Mobile Zone," will be greeted by an ad-supported homepage that includes hyperlocal content such as breaking local and national news, sports highlights, weather reports, music discovery, wallpapers, ringtones, maps, a social network and the ability to search for nearby restaurants, shops and entertainment complete with geographically- targeted community reviews.

CBS and Co. have outfitted CBS-owned and MTA/New York City Transit-owned billboards with the Wi-Fi transmitters and they are even offering free routers to local businesses to boost indoor coverage.

My favorite part is that CBS will sell what it calls "interactive advertising opportunities that can be localized down to the individual billboard." In other words, that ginormous Calvin Klein ad showing the mostly nude model will be sure to let you know where the closest outlet is (where you will likely not meet said model).

But CBS is not the first company to offer up ad-supported muni-Wi-Fi. As we've seen in recent months, many municipalities are scaling back their Wi-Fi efforts as costs escalate. What does CBS got that others don't? Well, existing relationships with all sorts of advertisers, for starters. Whether or not CBS and its partners can parlay those relationships into a successful venture is another story.

And what about the competition? How many hotels, coffee shops or other establishments are already offering Wi-Fi for free or a fee? Think about the number of Starbucks in midtown. There have to be dozens and dozens. Starbucks has partnered with T-Mobile to provide Wi-Fi access inside its locations, but it costs money. Where does Starbucks and T-Mobile's business model go (at the affected locations) if suddenly Wi-Fi is available for free?

Same goes for hotels. While some hotels offer Wi-Fi access for free, many charge daily fees for it. While the signals from CBS's hotspot might not permeate many hotels, it will certainly be available here and there, undercutting some hotels' attempts to make a little dough by (over) charging for Wi-Fi access.

Either way, you gotta give 'em credit for giving it a shot. CBS said that certain areas of midtown will be live starting today and the entire footprint should be up and running by the end of the month. Just in time to support the holiday shopping season.

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