What is the value of free WiFi?

Denis Stelatos

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Let’s set the record straight, there really is no such thing as free WiFi.  Someone along the value chain is paying for it.  Whether it is a coffee shop that installs a Best Buy router and buys the cheapest available internet connection or it is a large telecommunications carrier that mines your email address and location based analytics, someone is paying for WiFi.


So what is the value proposition of “free to user” WiFi?  Does the independent coffee shop attract customers? Does the carrier attract more users?  The simple answer is no and yet majority try to answer yes, the far more difficult answer to justify.


The need to offer FtU WiFi is part of an intrinsic thought process that screams “Everyone has free WiFi and I will fail if I don’t follow”.  We can thank millennials for this fear.  Yes, those people that are hurtling down the generational bull ready to crash into the pretty china shop that we have tended for the past 200 years.  The gap between millennials and today’s decision makers is a chasm that we are ill prepared to traverse.  What does this have to do with FtU WiFi?  Expectations.


FtU WiFi has become an expected amenity.  It has almost reached the status of a ‘right’ in the minds of many.  It is the means by which the populace can satiate its insatiable appetite for connectivity. However, as this expectation for connectivity grows, so will the expectation on quality.  How many coffees does a coffee shop owner need to justify the upgrade to a higher speed and unlimited throughput package? Every WiFi hotspot is now simultaneously an office, a spam hub, an event portal, an analytics aggregator, a location based tracking system and the list grows exponentially.


What all this leads to is the value of WiFi.  Simply put, facility based WiFi is an extremely valuable asset today with a value that is only growing.  When WiFi was the ‘next killer app’ in 2004, it was an expensive upgrade to any computer that was purchased and the buzz somewhat fizzled as cost to deploy could not get passed monetization.  From baby monitors to sensor controls to smart phones, today WiFi is imbedded in everything, almost literally and monetization has lost the battle to fear.


So what is the value of WiFi?  Certainly much more than free.  The growth in the strategic application of WiFi globally outside the home has rendered the unlicensed spectrum in which WiFi operates a veritable battleground.  It is a first come, first served environment due to the technical limitations and constraints of the spectrum with no judiciary body to govern.  An environment in which a facility owner must navigate and ensure they have a plan to monetize this wireless and not give it up for free.


Do you know how to prepare for voice over WiFi?