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Free WiFi?

I spent yesterday at the first-round NCAA tournament games in Indianapolis. Being a curious technology geek, I took my iPAQ 4355 PocketPC along for the ride. In addition to being an all around great portable device, it also serves as my wireless connection when I don’t have my laptop. I wondered if it would be possible to tap into an open wireless connection while watching the games…

There were at least 4 separate signals strong enough to use from my seat. Unfortunately, all but one were private and password protected; the other one was available for a daily fee. I’m a tightwad, so I didn’t open my wallet, but it got me thinking…

Why doesn’t someone start a free WiFi service that’s totally advertising supported? My goal was to keep up on scores from other games. Why not dedicate the top half of my PocketPC’s screen to the browser page with the scores and the other half to advertisements? I guarantee you I would have scanned that connection throughout the day, providing advertisers with lots of impressions.

Would advertising really generate enough revenue to support the cost of providing the WiFi access? Who knows and who cares? The gear is already in place. This would simply be a way to generate a bit of advertising revenue to help offset the cost of the system that’s already set up.

This sounds like a business opportunity for Yahoo, Google or one of the other online advertising experts. Google’s AdSense program would be a natural fit for this: context sensitive ads constantly appear on your screen, tempting you to click for more information.

Would enough people use the service to make it worthwhile? What if it didn’t really cost the service provider anything, other than some of their existing bandwidth? The system could be configured so that only a certain percentage of available ports and/or capacity could be available for this at any given time – that way, the people who use the connection for real work (e.g., facility staff, reporters, etc.) would be guaranteed a speedy connection.

I’m sure there weren’t too many other fans there with WiFi devices. The way SmartPhones, Blackberry’s, etc., are going, maybe this sort of content will simply be part of your service plan with a commercial carrier. In the mean time, I wish there were more places like Panera Bread, where you can get a free WiFi connection with no strings attached.


Marc Orchant

Joe: There must be something in the air today. I'm reading my RSS feeds this morning and Seth Godin is ranting about not getting free public WiFi access. He's wrong and I posted a rebuttal explaining why. Three feeds down in my aggregator, I come across this post from you.

Much more reasonable - you're trying to find some kind of a business model or quid pro quo at least. But ultimately, the thing I thing you got most right is you observation about other spectrums and devices. Your iPaq *is* being converged out of existence by Treos, Blackberrys, SmartPhones, etc.

And just FWIW, Panera actually *does* have a reasonable expectation that you'll buy something to eat or drink while you're consuming their bandwidth. Feed the atoms, feed the bits. That's their quid pro quo.


Free public wi-fi is the way to go.


Free managed wifi makes sense once benefits are clear and understood.

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