Free WiFi | May 3, 2006

I think its probably due to the number of free hotspots in Brighton, and more recently in Austin, but I really object to paying for WiFi. There is something about the lack of wires that has made companies want to commoditize it and sell it as a premium service. I could understand a few years ago when wireless enabled laptops were rare and the base stations were relatively expensive. However hardware prices have tumbled in the last few years and WiFi cards are now ubiquitous.

The thing that I really don’t get is places that have free wired connections but expect you to pay for WiFi. A case in point. I’m currently writing this in the BA club lounge at Heathrow terminal one. Next to me is a bank of 40+ computers, all free to use. To provide this, BA have had to buy the computer equipment, install a network and set up a pipe. BA have gone to great expense to provide this as a value-added service to their business customers, so why on earth are they charging for WiFi?

The infrastructure is already there. I’m even doing them a favor by providing my own equipment. What is it about the lack of wires that turns something from a value added service into an overpriced commodity? With so many business travelers owning their own laptop, surely it would make more sense to provide the WiFi for free and charge for the use of the computers?

I don’t get it!

Posted at May 3, 2006 6:21 PM


Jan Brasna said on May 10, 2006 12:32 AM

Yeah, I was thinking about the same (even in the BA lounge :D) when there were only ethernet ports and I had no ethernet cable…

Jonathan Phillips said on May 10, 2006 1:34 AM

Seems Marx may have had something to say about this.
c.f. Captial.

Pete Barr-Watson said on May 10, 2006 5:29 AM

well, I think it’s got more to do with good salespeople. Companies like BA, hotels and other public space management people have all had these services sold to them for free.

If you’re a manager of a space and someone offers you a service that you think your customers will find attractive, for free to you, then you’d probably take it.

The most expensive WiFi I’ve found so far is Rick’s in Edinburgh. I think the service provider is Swisscom and they charge £20+ (can’t remember exactly because it’s the only time I’ve actually refused to buy WiFi when needed) per session.

Stuart Langridge said on May 10, 2006 6:44 AM

Yep. Remember Tom Hume at d.construct 2005 saying “screw the Free Software mob; all this ‘information wants to be free’ rubbish is not happening, and we’re monetising the mobile network”? Wifi’s the same. We have a culture where people are prepared to pay for this sort of thing, and therefore everyone will pay. We could get around it by ordinary people setting up mesh networking hotspots, or WiMax, or helping with the effort, but…everyone wants someone else to solve the problem. Is your home wifi available for others to use as an open hotspot? It won’t solve the problem for Heathrow, but it will for the bits of Brighton near your house or near clear:left. Lots of people doing that will get around the problem in lots of places; look at Piertopia in Brighton itself.

Philip said on May 10, 2006 7:12 AM

And why charge for a wifi connection with the hardline right there for free when you’re going to get a better experience off of the ethernet cable? I will always plug in when I get the chance! It’s more reliable, quicker, and it’s safer too!

Yeah… makes no sense…

avianto said on May 10, 2006 9:23 AM

For those who are lucky enough to have cheap connection at home this kind of thing probably doesn’t make any sense.

But if you are living in the country where the price of 64Kbps-shared home internet connection is around $60/month (256Kbps will cost around $200/month) and $2.5 for 30 minutes WiFi connection at a cafe then this is actually what happened all the time.

I always have this mindset that internet connection has to be bloody expensive.

Nice Paul said on May 10, 2006 12:11 PM

“Next to me is a bank of 40+ computers, all free to use”

Were you using one of them or were you proving that people are willing to pay for the convenience of using their own laptop?

pylorns said on May 10, 2006 12:12 PM

Yeah, you’ll get spoiled coming here to Austin, we have a zillion free hotspots - put on by a campaigne to keep wireless free in Austin.

Sam said on May 10, 2006 12:30 PM

I get it. People are willing to pay for it. If nobody was willing to pay for it, it’d be offered for free.

In an effort to justify cost, it’s alot easier and cheaper to secure and “anti-virify” a wired stable of computers than to allow people to connect their own who-knows-how-safe hardware to your WiFi network. Virus propegation, packet sniffing etc are much easier in the open WiFi scenario.

It’s still more expensive to protect the users of a WiFi network.

Barry Bloye said on May 10, 2006 2:59 PM

Get a Nintendo DS when Opera comes out in the UK!

They have a deal with BT, The Cloud and a few other providers (even McDonalds!) to provide free WiFi over their usually-paid-for networks.

BigA said on May 10, 2006 4:33 PM

I’ll tell you what else I don’t get. There are very few (I think only one currently) international airlines that provide on board wifi. Come on already people! With the way the airlines are hurting you’d think they’d be falling over themselves to make this ubiquitous by now. The ability to provide it is there.

Josh said on May 13, 2006 9:22 AM

posted here

I realised quite early on what we were doing providing free wifi in brighton. people in brighton got very used to it and we started getting phone calls from them when they were out of town, “why isn’t it free? i thought it free in bars and cafes??…

Andy’s right people have to come expect it for free.

The way we sold it to venues in brighton was to convince them that it was a value add to their customers. they give away free wifi, and they sell more coffee. coffee that the person was gonna buy anyway somewhere else. this way the customer isn’t expending any more but they chose your venue instead.

So yeah, of course the same rule could apply to airlines, just as hotels realised about 2 years ago (not many though).

Now, expand that. why don’t the councils get in on the act. give it away to the public as effectively a value add for paying your taxes. Of course some are. But not on a proper scale and not really thinking through all the implications.

Ubiquitous free wifi effects local business, your own local network, the local and national telcos, the list goes on. Most councils don’t want to become ISPs. They are also under pressure not to screw over people like BT by undercutting them.

Free Wifi is still quite a way off. but not for technical reason, more for political or simply not understanding the marketplace properly. Mostly people don’t see it as a marketplace.

Andy Budd said on May 13, 2006 10:33 AM

I don’t expect free WiFi anywhere and everywhere (yet). However I think in an Airport lounge that provides free internet connected PC’s, free food and even free Champaign, the provision of free WiFi shouldn’t be too much to ask.

The other place I think WiFi should be free is in hotels. Especially business hotels. You’re already paying a large amount of money for the room, why on earth should you have to pay extra for an internet connection? Of course the argument is that it costs money. However so does the provision of Satellite TV in every room, yet that is now a standard feature in all good hotels.

I totally agree with Josh about council provision of WiFi. However as I’m sure you’re aware, local councils are not allowed to compete with commercial services. If they tried to offer free WiFi, BT, T-Mobile and all the other commercial players would cry foul.

In reality I would be willing to pay for WiFi if they had a different pricing model. I object to paying for access based on time, because I know the Internet isn’t metered in this way. I’d be much happier buying a monthly subscription for £10 and have unlimited access anywhere I went. That way I could use it whenever I wanted, and not have to think about the payment aspect or count the minutes until my hour runs out.