Given the proliferation of wireless devices — iPhones, iPods, wi-fi-enabled smartphones, and of course laptops — it still floors me when I go into a service-based business like a restaurant or coffee shop and there either isn’t a wireless signal at all, or there’s a locked signal, or — and this is the worst — you’re expected to pay for wireless access.
Really? Pay for wireless?
Let’s talk about competitive advantages. I know of at least a dozen individuals who choose where they’re going to eat or drink based on whether or not there is free wi-fi, particularly @SirThinks and @out_inc. And I can’t say I blame them. Awhile back, @ChrisLaBossiere said that charging individuals for use of a wireless connection would be like adding a line item to their tab that says “Lighting,” or “Heating.” Wireless connections have, whether you like it or not, become so ubiquitous — and indeed for some people, so necessary — that business owners who charge for it are pricing themselves out of getting more customers through their doors.
I often meet clients in bars or restaurants. I often have to do something with my computer — either show them a website that we’ve created or point them to an image or film clip. Why do this in a restaurant? Because some meetings are better run when people are relaxed, feeling a little casual, and putting some food in their bellies. It isn’t necessary to starch a shirt and sit all glassy-eyed in a boardroom. At least, it shouldn’t be.
But it’s not just about meetings. Data network connections for mobile devices are still pretty pricey (at least in Canada), and free wireless allows people to use their devices without worrying about over-using their accounts’ data limits.
I mentioned competitive advantages… By way of example, consider the fact that a lot of people on Twitter are connectors. Giving these people access to the tools to connect to their social nets freely could be a boon to business: it could put more butts in seats, more warm bodies in your business and mean more money in your cash register. It’s crowdsourced free advertising, and it’s achieved by giving your customers free internet access.
However you feel about the debate on free access to information is irrelevant. If you want my business, open up your wi-fi connection, or I’ll happily eat and drink someplace else.
Fortunately, in Edmonton, there are some really excellent people trying to promote this notion. Check out the Free WiFi project for more details.