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Is McWi-Fi a Good Idea?

I am here at Esther Dyson’s PC Forum, an annual suaret for the high technology community. Larry Brilliant, now Vice-Chairman and former CEO of Cometa Networks spoke on a panel regarding the company’s strategy to build a wholesale network of 20,000 hotspots around the country in partnership with IBM Global Services, AT&T, and Intel.

One of Cometa’s first announcements is with McDonald’s. I initially thought that this was a bad idea, but I am beginning to rethink my position.

In thinking of where I want to use Wi-Fi, I can identify two situations that make sense as a white-collar business person:

Condition 1: A place where I can safely use a device that supports compute-intensive tasks. For the time being, this is really only a laptop or an ultra-portable in a place where my physical safety or the safety of my device is not really in question.

Condition 2: A place where I am actually willing to or forced to spend at least 45 minutes on an ongoing basis.

There are, of course, a number of places that automatically flow from these conditions. Obvious ones include the airport, where most business people both spend an inordinate amount of time, have access to their PCs, and have a willingness to spend money to connect to a Wi-Fi network.

Starbucks or my local coffee shop fits that mold. It is safe, clean, and I have no problem drinking several cups of coffe with friends or alone as I work away on something.

But here is the rub that I have with most McDonalds. I am looking to spend as little time as possible in McDonalds. There is a paucity of A/C outlets. It is generally not that clean. While I am okay with the idea of drinking several cups of coffee, the idea of eating several Big Macs while I work on a presentation is just too much to stomach (no pun intended).

The only way that I would be interested in using McDonalds for Wi-Fi would be if I could get a Wi-Fi “burst” that would do a high-volume dump of my email or favorite websites to my PDA. I, however, don’t use my PDA to read my email or browse the web and don’t have any plans to do so.

But maybe I am being too elitist. As Larry Brilliant pointed out, he is not targeting people like me. He made an interesting distinction between “Road Warriors”, or those who travel for business, stay in hotels, and take taxis and limos, and “Window Warriors”, those who travel all day for sales-related jobs and use their car as their mobile office. Those folks do eat at McDonald’s and Subway. Sitting in a booth at McDonald’s beats the heck out of sitting in the front seat with a laptop in the passenger seat. And, most importantly, most of these people are probably not carrying expensive devices such as Blackberries, wireless PDAs, or high-end cell phones.

Maybe Larry is right and I am wrong. There are probably many more claims adjusters, regional sales people, technicians, and other mobile professionals than there are classic “road warriors.” Fortunately, the market will tell us who is right and who is wrong.

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