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Tuesday, May 22, 2012

"Free" WiFi

As you may recall from my recent post about WhatsApp, I have strong feelings about things claiming to be free that aren't, in fact, free.

Another example of this that I've come across lately is that of "free" WiFi at restaurants and coffee shops. As you might suspect, it's seldom free. Which is kind of stupid.

The way I see it, if a place offers free WiFi, there's a good chance that I'll spend the entire day there using it. While I'm there, I'll probably order several cups of coffee, have a meal or two, and make the place look busy. All of those are good things. That being the case, combined with the relatively low cost associated with putting together a reasonably fast, unlimited ADSL-backed Internet connection, it makes pretty good business sense to make it available.

And some places do. Examples I've come across include McDonalds in Rivonia (which is free to everyone, you don't even have to go inside to use it) and the Slug & Lettuce, also in Rivonia. Theirs is free for paying customers, which is fair. Even some Virgin Active gyms have free Internet for members.

Compare this to places like Mugg & Bean in Killarney Mall: they (like so many others) have their WiFi provided by some other commercial venture. When you sign up with that third party, you get half an hour of mediocre connectivity per day. If you want more, you have to pay a pretty steep premium per additional half hour.

While that billing model makes sense in a world where Internets are hard to come by, this is no longer such a world. When I see a 3rd-party login screen on a coffee-shop's "free" WiFi, my initial reaction is thinking them cheapskates. I make a mental note to not return there, instead favoring places without that restriction.

So, if you or someone you know operates an eating establishment, and you'd like to attract customers rather than scare them away: be a good person and offer actual free WiFi. You can still secure it so that only customers will have access to it, and it won't cost you much extra (if it costs you anything at all).