Hotspot Payment by Text Messaging

Hotspot Payment by Text Messaging

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Written By Eric Sandler

By Eric Griffith

March 15, 2005

By adding SMS capabilities, Pronto says customers using its managed Wi-Fi service can allow end-users to pay for access by simply sending a text message.

If you use Cingular or Nextel, you can get fast access to certain hotspots thanks to a new feature called Premium SMS from Wi-Fi back-end provider Pronto Networks.

At most hotspots, if you don’t already have a subscription and/or the needed client software to get access, at the very least you probably have to enter data on a Web page—even a credit card number.

Pronto, which runs an OSS platform that hosts hotspot networks for providers, says it would be easier if you could just pay using your existing cell phone account.

“The whole idea is that many times you just want to get quick access for e-mail or Web or whatever, maybe run Skype,” says Jasbir Singh, president and CEO of Pronto. “There’s no need for a username or account.”

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Premium SMS lets carriers accept a single code that allows access to the network—a code the end-user receives by phone.

“As the end user, you go to any Pronto-enabled location, or one running Pronto software or that has a business relationship with Pronto, take out a Cingular or Nextel phone, and send a [SMS] code to ‘80211’,” says Singh. The code that is instantly messaged back serves as confirmation, and can be entered on the screen of a computer or PDA at the hotspot to get access. The charges for using the hotspot show up later on the cell phone bill. The code is good for 24 hours of access.

Premium SMS is an extension to the Pronto OSS platform, which can be purchased by businesses running Pronto’s software. It’s automatically in use by any provider using Pronto as a hosted service. This is a no-brainer for the WISPs, who are opened to a new potential revenue stream by doing almost nothing. Revenue is shared with Pronto.

At first, it sounds similar to what Excilan of Luxembourg is doing. That company has deals with hotspot providers around the world, including Seattle Wireless, FirstSpot, and Surf and Sip in the United States. The difference is that the Excilan system actually makes a phone call to the user. Singh claims that using SMS is “much more intuitive.”

The functionality for this “reverse payment SMS” has been in the Pronto software for over a year, but the company hasn’t mentioned it because no carriers signed up until now.

Premium SMS is currently in trials at approximately 500 hotspot locations. Singh says between Cingular and Nextel there are 24 million potential users, and the company is working to get other mobile phone carriers interested.

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