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Sidebar: Wi-Fi Hot Spots Keep Users Online

By Bob Brewin
August 23, 2004 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Public-access Wi-Fi hot spots have become a key alternative for business and personal communications in the wake of Hurricane Charley's devastating rampage across Florida.
For example, the Florida franchisee for Panera Bread Co. last week reported a 50% increase in traffic on the free Wi-Fi wireless LAN service offered in its 34 restaurants in the state. John Wetzel, director of operations in Florida for Warren, Ohio-based Covelli Family LLP, said he thinks that about seven in 10 of the Wi-Fi users at Panera Bread outlets in Florida are using the Internet connections for business.
"We have people holding business meetings in our stores," Wetzel said, noting that the loss of electricity and phone service has forced companies to resort to such measures.
People looking for Internet access are also seeking out independent Wi-Fi hot spot operators. Lee Lorenzo, general manager of the Village Inn in the Orlando suburb of Winter Park, said her restaurant had its power turned on last Thursday. Four customers were already using the restaurant's Wi-Fi connection, and Lorenzo had fielded calls from several other people wanting to know if the service was operational.
Nate Williams, who works as an event planner for an unidentified company, said he had just finished a three-hour Wi-Fi session at the Village Inn -- the first time he had been able to log onto the Internet since the storm struck on Aug. 13.
T-Mobile USA Inc., which provides paid Wi-Fi hot spots for several national retail chains, offered free services in Florida through last Monday. But a T-Mobile spokesman wasn't able to provide usage data for the company's Wi-Fi outlets in the state.

Read more about Mobile/Wireless in Computerworld's Mobile/Wireless Topic Center.

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