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HotAir is More Than Just That
HotAir Network Group is rising in the tough wireless field.

By Brian Monroe, Florida Today -- May 29, 2003

If someone said they were gaining ground in the volatile telecommunications and wireless network industry, you might think they are full of hot air.

At HotAir Network Group, that's exactly what's happening.

The Indialantic-based startup already has "hot-wired" several local businesses -- a microbrewery, coffee shop and hotel business center -- so patrons can go online sans the constriction of cables and telephone lines.

All someone needs is a wireless access card in his or her computer to be able to log on. Currently, HotAir is not charging for its service. But when it is further established, it said it would charge in the $20 a month range for access.

"Our business has really started to take off this month," said John Hogan, one of the company's co-founders.

HotAir, which launched in January, already has a paying customer, Charlie & Jake's Brewery and Grille, located in the Centre at Suntree. The company also is conducting trial tests at Indian River Coffee Company in Melbourne, the Ramada Plaza Hotel in Palm Bay and a medical and business center.

If the company's plan to continue adding local businesses and branch out into Orlando and the rest of Florida comes to fruition, it could be profitable by 2004, generating potential revenues of $1 million this year and $2 million next year, Hogan said.

If that happens, the company's workforce could mushroom to 15 to 20 people by this time next year.

That could give more residents a chance at a cyber delight on the menu.

Diners are enjoying a side of technology with their meals, said Debbie Holman, a manager at Charlie & Jake's, which has offered the wireless Internet service up for just more than a month.

"The customers love it, and we have a lot of people asking questions about it," she said. "They are really enthused about it."

Holman said she has seen more people coming in with their laptops to finish work, take online classes and the like while they munch burgers and sip suds.

"You can work and relax at the same time," Holman said. "I really think it's a positive."

Another positive, Hogan said, is the future of HotAir.

In his 15 years in telecommunications, he has worked in engineering, marketing, program management and wireless communications with such companies as Harris Corp., Tantivy Communications Inc. and Globe Wireless.

He and fellow founder Steve Gould started HotAir, which specializes in wireless fidelity, dubbed "Wi-Fi," because he believes the market has great potential for growth and is "taking off in leaps and bounds right now."

Gould, who worked at Harris for 17 years in advanced programs, research and network security, said his company has a simple goal: Make the Internet "convenient enough to be used anywhere, anytime, without a lot of wires."

HotAir has competition from such household names as Intel, AT&T and T-Mobile, which are investing millions in the hopes of one day having a seamless wireless network throughout the country.

Still, Gould said his plan is not to dive headlong into a new and emerging technology.

He remembers all too clearly the Wild West attitude in the early days of online -- and the eventual industry implosion that ensued.

"Our goal is to execute a sound business plan in an incremental fashion, build a solid foundation and then launch a much larger operation," he said. "Using skills and experiences from Harris is an advantage. We bring that discipline into a fairly wild marketplace."

Now is a good time to jump on the "Wi-Fi" bandwagon.

Scott Smyser, a senior analyst in radio frequency and wireless networks for iSuppli/Stanford Resources, a market-research firm that focuses on the technology sector, said the industry is expected to grow.

Wireless access cards that plug into laptop computers are expected to jump in worldwide sales from 922 million units in 2002 to 1.3 billion units in 2007.

Worldwide sales for wireless access points -- the hub that transmits the data to the computers -- is expected to rise from 644 million units in 2002 to 845 million units in 2007.

"That's not bad," Smyser said. "Wi-Fi has gained a lot of interest. Intel has made a push in their Centrino mobile processors, which are integrated Wi-Fi technology, by investing more than $150 million into wireless-related companies just to help it gain acceptance with consumers."

T-Mobile has staked its wireless claim in Starbucks' coffee locations.

So, it's not surprising HotAir chose Indian River Coffee Company as a test site for its product.

A more sedate atmosphere, filled with the aroma of roasting coffee, can be a welcome respite from office pressures or home distractions.

"We've had a lot of good responses from businesspeople," said Dale Longstreet, who owns Indian River Coffee Company. "I have seen them pop in and pay their bills while sipping coffee, work on spreadsheets or finish up letters."

"Not only do you get a chance to hang out and relax," he said, "you can get some work done."

Exactly, said Indian River Coffee Company customer Daryl Mullins.

He recently went to get a jolt of caffeine and try out the company's new wireless-access capabilities.

"It's great," he said, adding he used a pocket PC with a wireless card and it worked fine. "I have two friends, and we were all here trying it out.

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