BP, HarborLink Brings Internet to the Open RoadBy Charlene O'Hanlon | Posted 2008-12-15 Email Print
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BP gas stations will host free, advertising-based Internet access service for drivers that's designed and operated by Ohio-based HarborLink Network. The system is built, in part, on the Ruckus Wireless platform.
Logging on from the road just got a little easier.
Now, truckers, road warriors and Internet junkies can stay connected while traveling down the highways of North America, thanks to an agreement between BP North America and wireless solution provider HarborLink Network to provide robust wi-fi at its 9,000 locations across the continent.
What’s more, it’s a free service to customers.
"We always believed Wi-Fi would be an amenity, and we built our business around that belief," said HarborLink president Rick Tangeman. The Dayton, Ohio company also provides similar services for universities and municipalities.
HarborLink uses an advertising-based model – users of the free service see national and regional advertising and promotions on the homepage when they first log on. The ads are generated via Harborlink’s advertising platform, which sits back at the HarborLink NOC along with its authentication platform and the FlexMaster system software backend system from Ruckus Wireless, and are specific to each location. A unique identifier attached to each unit helps the system determine which ads go to which location.
"The backend can do global advertising, regional or single-site advertising, depending on what the location wants," Tangeman said.
The program is an elective opt-in for BP North America’s franchises, which the company calls "jobbers." To be a part of the program, jobbers pay a one-time rental fee for the equipment, which includes a full year of service. In exchange, they receive a preconfigured Ruckus ZoneFlex access point and all the backend and help desk support they need.
"HarborLink had been through a bunch of wi-fi products and were running into a wall – they couldn’t find a system that supported multimedia well and was easy to manage," said David Callisch, vice president of marketing at Ruckus Wireless, Sunnyvale, Calif., which manufactures carrier-strength wireless hardware and software. "One of the keys was to make the process of setting it up so brain-dead simple that it could be installed in minutes. We’re focused on making wireless better so it becomes a utility."
The system created for BP locations uses a 'call-home’ technology called Whisper that automatically dials back to the FlexMaster software at the NOC and puts the unit online often in less than five minutes, Tangeman said. The unit also can be monitored and troubleshot via FlexMaster, eliminating the need for onsite maintenance.
Tangeman stressed the importance of having a foolproof system that was literally plug-and-go for the locations. "You’re not going to have computer guys pumping gas," he said. "The idea is to let the folks who are running the stores and the stations do what they do best, and not have to worry about the wireless system."
Currently, HarborLink has equipped about 50 BP locations nationwide. And while wireless at a gas station might not seem like a good fit, Tangeman said a wider view is in order.
"If you look at what’s happening in Europe and other parts abroad, some cars are already equipped with wireless capability. If the vehicle can speak to the network, it becomes a much more robust environment," he said.
Until that occurs here in North America, such as system at a gas station or truck stop can be used for fleet management, e-mail access and movie downloads, for example.
"Lots of guys on the road all the time are already doing telemetry on their laptops," he said. "They’re using the Internet as their contact back home, or they can take care of their mail. They’re managing their lives – there are all kinds of fun things they could do."
Plus, the location benefits from customers "stickiness" – users stick around longer and buy more stuff, especially at locations with food services.
"It’s another reason for customers to come in and stay," Tangeman said.