- The Washington Times - Monday, March 12, 2001

ECiti Cafe & Bar has gone wireless, giving its technology-saavy customers free access to a faster-than-ever on-line connection.The service, run by Spectrum Access of Sterling, Va., gives eCiti guests more speed and easier access when using their Palm Pilots, pocket PCs and wireless-enabled laptops staples for most techies.

Before the cafe began offering the service on Feb. 28, eCiti customers could only access the Web or check e-mail on wireless handheld devices using their own slower connections.

"This is an extra added service," says Stephen Thomas, a partner at the Tysons Corner restaurant and bar. "It's an incentive for them to come here."

The high-speed wireless connection is a variation on the trendy cyber-cafes where computer terminals are already in place and users pay for time on the computer.

Gregory Messitt, president and chief executive of Spectrum Access, thinks those kinds of cafes "are not going to survive unless they move to wireless."

But Peter Harrison, co-owner of the Mouse Trap, an Arlington-based cyber-cafe with eight computer terminals, doesn't see high-speed wireless connectivity as a threat.

"Wireless [devices] are great for being on the road, but not for sitting down and browsing or doing research," he says. "I don't think it's going to impact us at all."

Officials at eCiti say their restaurant and bar, which draws crowds of techies from nearby office buildings, is the perfect place for such a fast, wireless connection.

"They are all used to the world of instant response," says Vito Zappala, general manager of the 15,000-square-foot location. "Besides from running a restaurant, we're trying to stay on top of this high-tech thing."

Mr. Thomas says he thinks in six months dozens of restaurants will offer wireless connections.

"It's something you've got to have," he says. "You'll be embarrassed if you don't have it."

Business are already getting the wireless itch. Starbucks, for example, is planning to introduce its first wireless cafe in late spring.

A partnership with Microsoft and MobileStar Network Corp. allows Starbucks' customers at about 70 percent of their locations to hook up on line faster than they would with their own connection.

"We did not want to establish cyber-cafes with big bulky computers," says Cheri Libby, a spokeswoman for the Seattle-based coffee chain, adding that the wireless connection will be a seamless transition for the cafes.

"People are already coming [with their lap tops and Palm Pilots] and this will be just an added service for them," she said. "It's something they've been asking for."

Cafes join a list of other businesses like airports and even gas stations interested in this high-speed wireless connection.

"The concept of a wireless data hot spot is certainly viable," says Cliff Raskind, director of global wireless practice at Strategy Analytics in Boston. "It's motivation for the customer because he's not paying and it provides some interesting advertising potential."

Mr. Raskind says companies can use the wireless connection to sell advertising or use for their own advertising.

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