A Canadian franchise of business centres is hoping the availability of Wi-Fi Internet access will boost demand of its printing, mail forwarding and courier services.

Mail Boxes Etc. Canada on Monday said it was in the process of rolling out

a series of hotspots across the country in partnership with Bell Canada. Approximately 170 of the 275 Mail Boxes Etc. Canadian locations have been set up, with the rest to be completed in about two weeks. Mail Boxes Etc. Canada is also working with Toronto-based wireless provider BoldStreet Wireless on the Wi-Fi installation.

One of Xerox’s largest retail customers in the quick printing industry, Mail Boxes Etc. Canada started looking at Wi-Fi as an add-on about six months ago, according to COO Malcolm Houser. One of the firm’s franchisees had expressed an interest in the service around the same time that discussions with BoldStreet had begun. Houser said wireless Web access makes sense for Mail Boxes Etc. customers, who are often small businesses or home-based business owners who take work with them. 

“We had just started the process and I was in the Vancouver airport and had someone on each side of me with cell phones asking where they could find a hotspot,” he said. “We’re finding there’s more word on the street about Wi-Fi now.”

Bell Mobility vice-president of corporate development Almis Ledas said the Mail Boxes Etc. Canada locations will be fully compliant with an inter-carrier agreement forged last year that will allow users from Bell, Telus or Rogers to use the hotspots. 

“The way to make an individual property manager find this acceptable is by enabling them to interconnect with a chain of hotspots under standards and conditions that both the property owner and the individual end user understands,” he said. “It’s been a pretty large effort that’s taking place.”

Although Bell, BoldStreet and a number of other firms have been setting up hotspots in restaurants and airports, Houser said Mail Boxes Etc. is hoping its customers will use the Internet access to send faxes, update presentations and other work that may need to be printed. So far Mail Boxes Etc. Canada hasn’t significantly changed the physical layout of its stores to accommodate Wi-Fi users, he said, though it may consider doing so depending on demand.

“If someone’s going to sit and have a coffee, they’re probably going to the Starbucks. If they need to pick up e-mail or have something print off they’ll probably come to us,” he said, adding that Wi-Fi users may set up a something to print while surfing at a Starbucks hotspot and then picking it up at a nearby Mail Boxes Etc. location.

Ledas likened hotspots to parking, where car owners may pay by the hour, the day, a monthly pass or nothing at all. Wi-Fi will be similar, he said, in that it will accommodate multiple business models.

“It’s trading off in some cases cost for convenience and in some cases security,” he said. “Our focus has been to establish the interconnection and the ground rules, and take as much of the burden as possible from the property manager.”

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