United Parcel Service (UPS) is to test public access W-Fiat 66 of its retail packaging and shipping stores in the Chicago area.
Nick Costides, retail technology group manager at UPS, said the company will gauge customer interest in the service. If there is enough demand, UPS will roll out Wi-Fi services at more than 3,000 US locations.
Costides is also looking at making Wi-Fi access available in the 1,000 UPS retail outlets in other countries.
UPS will attach Wi-Fi connections to the internet on a nationwide network that serves its in-store computers and point-of-sales systems, Costides said. The network uses DSL links with an average data throughput of 256Kbit/sec, although some cable modems are also used.
Costides said UPS has isolated and secured the portion of the network that will carry public Wi-Fi traffic from the part that transmits corporate data. During peak usage periods for the in-store systems, the company's network managers will be able to cut back on Wi-Fi throughput to avoid performance hits.
Alan Reiter, an analyst at Wireless Internet & Mobile Computing, said the attached connections planned by UPS are a key to developing nationwide Wi-Fi access capabilities. But that is also the most expensive option, adding that if the service is popular, UPS might need to install T1 pipes with 1.54Mbit/sec transmission rates.
Wi-Fi setups use 802.11b wireless Lan technology to provide 11Mbit/sec connections between users' laptop PCs and wireless access points.
Market research firm Datamonitor predicted the number of Wi-Fi hot spots worldwide would grow from 31,000 this year to 135,000 by 2007.
FedEx has also considered offering public-access Wi-Fi to its customers, but has seen little demand for the technology so far, said Ken Pasley, director of wireless systems development at FedEx. He noted that FedEx's retail locations and the customer service counters at its shipment hubs are, essentially, package drop-off and pick-up sites.
Bob Brewin writes for Computerworld