2 go-getters warm up a `hot spot'

A pair of young entrepreneurs are behind the effort to make Annapolis a free wireless zone

April 28, 2006|By HANAH CHO | HANAH CHO,SUN REPORTER

Like many small businesses with big dreams, Annapolis Wireless Internet runs out of a tiny office in a nondescript building. One room, two desks, tucked behind a boat dock. It's not even listed in the building's directory.

But tomorrow, the two 30-something entrepreneurs who occupy those desks will get some big exposure: an official unveiling of their vision at City Dock with Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and city officials on hand.

Victor DeLeon and Philip McQuade plan by the end of next year to complete a wireless network covering 10 square miles in Annapolis that will be totally free - no taxes, no user fees. They plan to pay for the system, which they hope to have running by the end of next year, entirely through sponsors and advertising.

Municipal wireless networks have been set up elsewhere, but they usually have some kind of taxpayer financing or a direct connection to city government. Untried as both the men and their concept are, a number of technology experts think they might be on to something.

"Why us? We're young, aggressive, we have the resources and we see the vision," said DeLeon, a founder and the company's technology director.

Beyond their drive, some wireless technology analysts and observers say DeLeon and McQuade have a number of other factors going for them.

For one thing, Annapolis draws millions of visitors and tourists - potential users - on land and water into a fairly compact area. The technology to set up a wireless network has become relatively inexpensive; in this case, it's expected to be about $250,000. And Nortel Networks, the Toronto hardware maker that is setting up the hardware for the Annapolis system, will only get paid if the advertising model works.

"You could attract a tourist crowd, who want to get connected to local information," said Craig Mathias, an analyst at Farpoint Group, a wireless communications and mobile computing consulting firm. "It could work, especially in the near term."

DeLeon, 36, was working at USinternetworking Inc., an Annapolis software company, during the dot-com years when he saw a market for outdoor wireless technology.

In 2001, DeLeon formed a business called Onsyte Technologies Inc., providing Wi-Fi hotspots and wireless networks for events, such as the sailboat and powerboat shows in Annapolis.

McQuade, 32, who moved to Annapolis a decade ago after college, also was running his own business, researching sponsorship opportunities for vendors, while working full-time in information technology at the Maryland Automobile Insurance Fund.

All the while, McQuade said, he was "keeping my eyes open for up-and-coming things, something I could get involved in, something I could start on my own."

In 2004, McQuade approached Mark L. Powell, president of the Anne Arundel Tech Council's board and chief executive officer of Sidus Group LLC, a data and Web services company in Crofton. McQuade had developed a proposal to "wire the whole city" and was interested in Sidus' wireless network business, he said.

As Powell remembers it, "I think along the way, we met Vic at several functions. And they just gravitated toward each other."

In August, Annapolis Wireless Internet was born, merging Onsyte Technologies and McQuade's business called Sponsorships Development Systems LLC.

The company also acquired Sidus Group's wireless network. "We made a conscious decision that we weren't going to focus on expanding the network we created," Powell said.

Powell, who serves as their mentor, said McQuade and DeLeon bring complementary skills. "Vic brings a tremendous amount of technical quality," Powell said. "And Phil's primary role is the marketing, sales and business development."

DeLeon and McQuade speak passionately about free wireless service as a business enterprise that is also civic-minded.

"It really started to crystallize that people loved Wi-Fi, but the problem is that a lot of people who are transient or have Internet service in their home really couldn't justify spending extra money when they're visiting briefly or what have you," McQuade said.

Annapolis Wireless Internet has been running its free wireless service in parts of the city since February, paid for by local sponsors and advertisers. Users view advertisements on its Web site when they access the network. They can then freely surf the Internet without more advertisements.

"We established proof of concept in February and decided that not only can it work in Annapolis but we created it in such a way where it could work in every city," DeLeon said.

Many companies offer wireless hotspots where users are charged a fee, but public networks, or municipal Wi-Fi, also are popping up all over the country. Larger cities like San Francisco, Philadelphia and Houston are planning low-cost or free wireless networks.

Baltimore Sun Articles
|
|
|
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.