BP Gas Stations Offer Free Wi-Fi

BP Gas Stations Offer Free Wi-Fi

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Written By Eric Sandler

By Jeff Goldman

January 22, 2009

HarborLink Network is using equipment from Ruckus Wireless to deploy remotely managed Wi-Fi hotspots at BP gas stations throughout North America.

HarborLink Network is using equipment from Ruckus Wireless to deploy remotely managed Wi-Fi hotspots at BP gas stations throughout North America.

Last month, Ohio-based HarborLink Network announced plans to deploy a free, ad-based Wi-Fi service at BP gas stations throughout the United States and Canada, using equipment from Ruckus Wireless. The free Wi-Fi is part of BP’s larger campaign to build “a little better gas station,” looking for new ways to persuade drivers to choose BP over its competitors.

The offering is now available on an opt-in basis to BP’s more than 9,000 franchisees (which the company calls “jobbers”) throughout North America. “There’s an up-front fee for the hardware as well as the first year of service,” says Harborlink president Rick Tangeman. “We then take care of all the hardware management, replacements, and all customer service.”HarborLink also delivers customized content and advertising specific to each location—and that’s where Ruckus comes in. “If we had done it the old-fashioned way, for us to monitor and push the content and make sure everything’s healthy, we would have had to have launched 9,000 VPNs to go out to each one of these radios,” Tangeman says.

Instead, with Ruckus’ equipment, Tangeman says, “The radios call home to us and say, ‘Hey, I’m alive—what do I need to do, what do I have to deliver, do I need firmware upgrades’… and that’s what became key on the back end. That saved us, not only in the radio costs, but in the entire infrastructure costs—which made it a viable business.”

Keeping it simple

David Callisch, Ruckus’ vice president of marketing, says the aim was to keep everything as simple as possible for the jobbers. “BP wanted to be able to provide one of the jobbers with a package that had an access point and all the requisite promotional materials… and the guy literally plugs red into red, blue into blue, and that’s it: the system takes care of everything else,” he says.

End users are automatically redirected to HarborLink’s NOC using the WISPr (Wireless Internet Service Provider roaming) protocol—and Ruckus’ FlexMaster management platform proactively monitors each system. “Integrating WISPr into our access points and using the TR-069 protocol to automatically enable remote management to a central system, those were the keys to this,” Callisch says.

And the gas station owner doesn’t have to do any configuration at all. “What Rick does when he gets these access points is he runs them through a config process that takes a couple of minutes—and then, once that config process is done, he ships it to the franchisee, who just literally plugs it in,” Callisch says.

Tangeman says it takes about two minutes for HarborLink to configure an access point (the system uses Ruckus’ ZoneFlex 2942 Smart Wi-Fi APs), and the jobbers are reporting that it takes them about two minutes to deploy. “So we can take an order, and in two minutes have that thing configured, put it in the box with all the stuff that BP has sent to us already, and send it out that same day to them—and then, two minutes after they receive it, they can be up and online with it configured for their content, their information, the whole works,” he says.

Encouraging bandwidth usage

The company’s aim from the beginning, Tangeman says, has been to encourage use of bandwidth-intensive applications—the initial splash page, he says, always includes full-motion content, specifically so the user understands that the service is capable of supporting that kind of traffic.

The idea, Tangeman says, is to be ready for the inevitable (and exponential) increase in demand for bandwidth as Wi-Fi devices continue to proliferate. “We had to look down the pike to the future,” he says. “The ability to differentiate or be optimized for voice, video, and data right now was key to us.”

Wi-Fi is currently the only technology, Callisch says, that can affordably provide that kind of capacity. “I can’t sit here and tell you, ‘Well, someone’s going to drive into one of these [gas stations] and they’re going to do a videoconference in their car,’ but it’s absolutely possible now… history has shown that if you deliver capacity to the end user, they will find a way to use it,” he says.

And Callisch notes that the system can be used for much more than public access. “It can be used for digital signage, it can be used for back end operations, it can be used for all kinds of different applications—so getting a reliable connection that can do much more than just vanilla data traffic was important,” he says.

The point, Tangeman says, is that offerings like these have to be ready for what’s coming next, whatever it may be. “We like to say we’re in the device management business,” he says. “We’re going to be a gateway to all these things, because I’m not out there inventing them—I’m just letting them happen.”

Jeff Goldman is a frequent contributor to Wi-Fi Planet. He is based in Southern California.Originally published on .

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