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The Federal Aviation Administration reported last month that domestic airlines are booking more flights than many airports can handle, and travelers should expect longer, more frequent delays in years to come. The report may strike harried business travelers as cause for despair, but it’s good news for a number of companies that provide public Internet access via specially equipped kiosks that let users surf the Web and check e-mail. In some airports, companies have installed rentable offices with Web-connected desktop computers, copiers, fax machines, multiline phones and other amenities. Eventually, some analysts estimate there will be hundreds of thousands of Internet kiosks around the world — not just in airports, but also in hospitals, hotels, malls and other places where people are often forced to wait — all capitalizing on the unreliability of the mobile Internet. According to market research firm Frost & Sullivan, the Internet kiosk industry generated revenues of just $33.6 million in 1999. By 2006, that figure is projected to reach $1.38 billion. EKiosk, headquartered in New Lenox, Ill., claims to be making the greatest headway in the emerging Net kiosk market. The private company currently operates about 1,000 Internet kiosks around the country and expects to increase that number to 10,000 by the end of the year. The first 10 minutes of Internet browsing on eKiosk terminals are ad-sponsored and free to the user. After that, the cost is 25 cents a minute. EKiosk’s competitors include AT&T, maker of PowerPhones — pay phones with small Internet screens — and Golden Screens Interactive Technologies, a regional player in New York. Travelers who require more than just an Internet connection at the airport can seek out the mini-offices offered by Bellevue, Wash.-based LaptopLane, which is owned by broadband service provider SoftNet Systems. In addition to operating a store in New York City’s Javits Convention Center, LaptopLane has outlets in 25 major North American airports, with another six scheduled to open this summer. The service includes a private office with desktop PC, laptop connection, high-speed Internet access, multiline phones with conference-call capability, plus printer, fax and copying services. A concierge is always on duty to assist customers with their purchases and technical matters. The cost is $5 for five minutes and 65 cents for each additional minute. Although downloading e-mail appears to the biggest selling point for users of Internet kiosks, Don Heidrich, eKiosk’s founder and CEO, says his company plans to roll out additional services, including video conferencing, airline check-in, and a purchasing and customer-verification card. At LaptopLane, 30 percent of the company’s revenue comes from the sale of mobile accessories, such as headphones, modem cord and the like, and CEO Adrian van Haaften expects corporate membership to become another consistent source of income. The company recently signed IBM as its first major corporate customer and will soon offer a program for small businesses, so employees can use the kiosks on a corporate account. If there is a development that threatens the expansion of public Internet access companies, however, it would be the arrival of third-generation wireless technologies, which are expected to deliver high-speed, continuous Internet connections for a number of devices, including mobile phones, handheld computers and laptops, within the next few years. Although Rufus Connell, industry manager for information technology at Frost & Sullivan, acknowledges that 3G technology could potentially put providers of public Internet access out of business, he nonetheless remains bullish about their prospects: “The 3G rollout has been slow and the pricing might be prohibitively expensive, in which case the public Internet becomes very nice.” Copyright � 2001 The Industry Standard

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