McDonald's selects Wayport to serve up Wi-Fi

Fast-food chain expects to equip 3,000 restaurants this year with wireless service

Wayport Inc. said McDonald's Corp. has selected the company as its exclusive nationwide public access Wi-Fi provider, which could lead to deployment of the world's largest Wi-Fi network. Dan Lowden, vice president of marketing at Austin-based Wayport, said his company expects to install Wi-Fi service in about 3,000 McDonald's restaurants this year and eventually plans to extend the service to "as many as possible" of the 13,000 McDonald's outlets in the U.S. during the course of the four-year contract. Wayport will offer two-hour Wi-Fi sessions at a fee of $2.95 an hour as well as other pricing options, Lowden said. These include a $29.95-per-month unlimited-service plan across the entire Wayport network, currently available in 700 hotels and six major airports nationwide. Wayport will provide the Wi-Fi service under the 802.11b Wi-Fi standard, which has a raw data rate of 11Mbit/sec. in the 2.4-GHz band, and the 802.11g standard, which has a raw data rate of 54Mbit/sec. in the same band. Store connections will be business-class Digital Subscriber Line circuits, which Lowden said typically run about 512Kbit/sec. If user demand warrants, Wayport will upgrade the network connection, he added. McDonald's first tapped Wayport last year to provide Wi-Fi service in pilot markets including San Francisco/San Jose; Portland, Ore.; Boise, Idaho; and Raleigh, N.C. (see story). In a statement , Wayport said the service drew interest from customers including mobile professionals, soccer moms and students. Survey feedback showed that these customers took advantage of Wi-Fi at McDonald's because of the accessibility of the restaurants and Wayport's user-friendly and secure Wi-Fi experience through network support for virtual private networks and personal firewalls. Jim Sappington, McDonald's vice president of U.S. information technology, said the company views Wi-Fi service as an extension of its business to provide customers with service, convenience and value. "We want the 'golden arches' to be the first choice for a great meal and wireless Internet access," Sappington said. Vince Howell, owner of a McDonald's franchise in Las Vegas, N.M., said Wi-Fi service could help drive traffic to his restaurant. Howell said he does about 40% of his business with travelers coming from Interstate 25 and believes that the wireless access would entice Wi-Fi computer-equipped travelers to choose his McDonald's instead of nearby fast-food restaurants. John Yunker, an analyst at Pyramid Research in Boston, agreed that Wi-Fi could serve as a lure to travelers who want a fast meal and a quick Internet session to check e-mail. He said Wi-Fi service would help McDonald's outlets tap into a growing pool of traveling salespeople and truck drivers with wireless devices. Yunker said there are about 20 million sales personnel, field reps and route salespeople who travel by car as well as truck drivers in the U.S., and 15% have Wi-Fi equipped portable computers, a number that he expects to grow.

Copyright © 2004 IDG Communications, Inc.

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