- The Washington Times - Monday, October 15, 2001

Ltast week, I shared some insights and tips on making wireless networks to work. A lot of this revolves around a standard known as 802.11, which defines the way computer radios talk to each other, and at what speed. You can find 802.11, or "Wi-Fi," networks in offices, schools, homes and public places such as Starbucks, airport lounges and hotels.

In every new market, there are winners and losers. Last week came news that one player in the field is now, apparently, out of business. MobileStar Networks Corp., based in Richardson, Texas (a Dallas suburb), has laid off its staff and is said to be looking to sell its assets.

Goodbye, MobileStar, and don't let the door hit you on the rear as you exit. In my opinion, these folks would have invented the word "usury" if it didn't already exist.

MobileStar, noted for offering wireless Internet connectivity in Starbucks coffee shops and selected hotels (the only District outlet appears to have been a downtown Crowne Plaza hotel), was praised by some travelers and investors, according to news accounts. Count me out of that fan club.

On a recent trip to Chicago, I encountered the MobileStar service at a hotel whose name shall not be disclosed. Told that there was a form of wireless Internet access, I was also informed I'd have to rent equipment for $5 a day to access it. (The hotel folks didn't specify that it was 802.11 and, yes, I didn't ask. My bad, as they say.)

After paying the rental fee and getting upgraded to the extra-cost "club level" where the access was available I discovered that the paying doesn't end there. MobileStar would sell you "air time" on the Internet, but at a rate that worked out to nearly 20 cents per minute, for a service which I doubt cost them anywhere near that price to deliver. If it did, then somebody got taken for a ride.

I could have signed up for an "all you can eat" plan at $60 per month, but it would have required a one-year commitment. (I later learned from a friend that by typing in a promotional code, I could have tried the service for one month free, but this, too, was not widely advertised.) Spending, or committing to spending, $720 to surf the Net while traveling wasn't my idea of fun.

Instead, I signed on for two 120-minute blocks of time at $20 a pop. The MobileStar "meter" seemed to work as well as those faulty ones you occasionally find in taxi cabs in Arlington or Manhattan. Never have I seen time move so quickly.

While news reports indicate that MobileStar sank because it couldn't get funding to move forward, I'm willing to bet its outlandish pricing structure had a lot to do with it. Why do I call it outlandish? Because you can find the same service elsewhere for much less money. If you check into most Marriott Corp. properties, you can sign up for a wired high-speed Internet connection for $10 per day from Salt Lake City-based provider STSN (www.stsn.com). What's more, the connections are usually available in any hotel room, not just the highest-priced ones, and they provide an Ethernet or USB cable to hook you up to the network.

Wireless provider Wayport, Inc., based in Austin, Texas, offers 802.11 access in hotels and airports for about $10 a day; those who prepay can get 20 percent off those prices, details of which are available at www.wayport.com in simple language.

In short, I believe it is possible for high-speed Internet service to be available to a business traveler at their hotel for a daily price somewhat less than, say, Michael Jordan's new basketball contract. The apparent collapse of MobileStar reported by Dow Jones and Cnet.com news wires should be a wake-up call to hoteliers and providers: Greed kills.

• Two wireless updates: The Cisco Systems Inc. wireless antennas I had trouble with last week are now running on my home-based 802.11 wireless network. New drivers and reinstalling same made the difference, and I'm rather happy. I do wish Cisco made finding and installing such drivers a bit easier vis-a-vis their Web site, but that's another story.

I was also mistaken sadly mistaken in stating the price of the Linksys wireless router in last week's column. The list price is just under $230 and you can find the device for around $199 at buy.com or amazon.com among other online outlets. That's not the $99 I claimed here last week, but at $199 it's 33 percent less than a similar item would have cost a year earlier, and the Linksys product is much more reliable than some others I've seen.

• Write to Mark Kellner in care of The Washington Times, Business Desk, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, D.C. 20002; send e-mail to [email protected], or visit the writer's Web page, www.kellner2000.com. Talk back live to Mark on www.adrenalineradio.com. every Thursday from 8 to 9 p.m., Eastern time.

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