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I-Spot Networks expands Web access across Des Moines


Iowa Cubs baseball fans and Internet junkies will be able to satisfy both their cravings simultaneously, just in time for opening day this Friday, compliments of hardware being installed now at Sec Taylor Stadium.

Hardware installed at the ballpark by I-Spot Networks will let users of portable computers surf the Internet wirelessly at no cost to them. Instead, the expense will be born by owners of Sec Taylor and other sponsors, who have paid for the installation and will pay a monthly maintenance fee in hopes that it will help attract more patrons.

To give the appeal a further nudge, I-Spot has developed several games that may be played at the stadium by network users. The prize for one of the games is an expenses-paid trip to a World Series game.

The Sec Taylor service is the latest in a deliberate expansion by I-Spot, founded a year ago by information technology consultant Mark Wheeler. Other locations on the company’s network include Autographs Rock ‘N Roll Sports Bar & Grill, Doc’s Bar & Grill, Valley West Mall and the skywalk-level branch of State Federal Savings & Loan Association of Des Moines.

“We’re a mobile society, and more and more people are carrying their own computer with them,” Wheeler said. “People will seek out places that have this access.”

I-Spot has signed up 200 people for its service so far and Wheeler said he hopes to have at least 2,000 members and 60 area businesses using I-Spot’s network equipment by the end of the year. He’s focusing on companies in the entertainment and service industries. He’s also trying to lure schools, or places where customers have long waiting times for services, such as doctors’ offices or auto repair shops.

The company’s network uses Wi-Fi technology. To part of it, a business would need to already have some form of high-speed Internet service, such as a digital subscriber line or a cable modem.

For a fee of about $500, I-Spot will install the devices needed to broadcast the Internet signals wirelessly. The company’s transmission nodes typically have a range of about 300 feet.

By offering the service to users at no cost, Wheeler is hoping to remove a barrier that may be keeping people from accessing the Internet wirelessly.      I-Spot makes its money by charging businesses an installation fee and a monthly access fee that ranges from $30 to $99, depending on the amount of advertising a business allows on its Web page. Each business is given its own Web page that will pop up when a user logs on at that location.

Wheeler has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Iowa in management information services and a master’s degree in health-care administration.

Prior to starting I-Spot, he worked on projects largely within the health-care field, including building Web sites for the Iowa Medical Society and the Polk County Medical Society.

I-Spot, now in its second year, has yet to make a profit. Wheeler is cautious about keeping costs low and growing the company slowly. He recently took on two partners to add expertise and he makes heavy use of subcontractors.

I-Spot’s biggest competitors are likely to come from businesses and corporations that install their own wireless networks. Other competitors include large national corporations, especially telecommunications companies that are currently working to install high-speed wireless networks across the country.

Verizon Communications Inc. recently announced that it would soon introduce super-fast wireless service for customers who use its cell phone service in Central Iowa.

Other factors that could hurt I-Spot’s growth include a perception by prospective business clients that consumer demand for wireless Web surfing isn’t high enough or that the service is too expensive, especially in the midst of a weak economy.

Wheeler is hoping to convince business owners and decision makers that it is to their advantage to invest in a service that lets workers roam the city while staying connected to information. For restaurants and entertainment venues, such as Sec Taylor, Wheeler hopes to convince owners and managers that his company’s service will draw patrons.

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