Wi-Fi wants to be free

Here’s an interesting article about Wi-Fi that makes the point that trying to make people pay for wireless access is often more trouble than it’s worth:

"Panera Bread Co., based in Richmond Heights, Mo., has also embraced free Wi-Fi as a marketing tool and plans to offer the service in 130 of its 600 bakery cafes by year’s end, eventually extending the service chainwide. Ron Shaich, the company’s chairman and CEO, says he views free Wi-Fi as an amenity that has already started to attract and retain customers at what he calls a "minimal cost."

In fact, Shaich considers free Wi-Fi to be such an essential marketing tool that he dismisses any discussion of ROI. "What is the ROI on a bathroom?" asked Shaich, pointing out that the day of pay restrooms in restaurants has long since passed."

Last time I was in a Starbucks here in Brighton, I noticed that it had been turned into a T-Mobile hotspot. I opened up my iBook to see how the prices compared to the US where I had already used the service.

The prices are, quite frankly, shocking: £5.50 for 60 minutes.

I think I’d rather walk a little further and use one of the Loose Connection hotspots.

With that experience in mind, it galls me to read idiotic articles about Wi-Fi’s "business model" by the persitently idiotic Andrew Orlowski:

"Who’s going to pay for the great Wi-Fi revolution when the roaming public expects Wi-Fi to be free? Where, exactly, is the business model? On Friday, T-Mobile helped provide an answer. In the United States, T-Mobile has been trying to entice the public to its network of over 2000 hotspots without much success."

Get a clue. Don’t charge for Wi-Fi if what you’re really after is more customers.

Here’s another extract from that first article about Wi-Fi:

"John Wooley, chairman, CEO and president of restaurant chain Schlotzsky’s Inc. in Austin, isn’t so shy in sharing details of what he calls the "strong ROI" from the company’s free Wi-Fi service. Schlotzsky’s currently offers free Wi-Fi in 30 of its 600 company-owned or franchised Schlotzsky’s Delis. Wooley says he figures that the free Wi-Fi results in an additional 15,000 visits per restaurant per year by customers who spend an average of $7 per visit."

Thanks to Tom Hume for the link.

Tom, incidentally, is facing some serious temptation right now to splurge on an Apple laptop. Over on the Brighton New Media mailing list, I’ve been the proverbial devil perched on his shoulder whispering into his ear, goading him into joining the ranks of Mac users.

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