Will We All Be Wooed By Free Wi-Fi?

Free WiFi

Most of us now consider mobile internet connectivity to be an indispensable utility and demand instant access to a range of resources on the move, including e-mail, instant messaging, multimedia content and voice and video calling. From keeping up-to-date with work on the move to downloading films onto the latest tablet, we expect our wireless devices to work as perfectly when we are on the move as our broadband functions at home.

And so, of course, the issue of bandwidth rears its head. While mobile operators continue to upgrade their networks to support ultra fast 4G connectivity, Wi-Fi coverage currently fills a much needed niche between 3G mobile internet and home broadband. Tablets and mobile phones are capable of incredibly high-end browsing experiences now, but Wi-Fi access is often a requirement to support the tasks many of us want to be able to do on the move, such as uploading multimedia to Facebook or watching YouTube.

However, while the routes to monetising 4G connections can build on the current 3G status quo, consumers have been increasingly inured to the idea that Wi-Fi should be free. Given the free Wi-Fi connectivity found in public buildings, coffee shops and hotels, we are just not used to the idea that Wi-Fi should be a paid-for service. This raises a question: how can operators and other organisations support the costs of rolling-out Wi-Fi without directly monetising the service?

For many companies, the motivation of thousands of tourists descending on London during the Olympics this summer has proven too hard to ignore. In recent months, companies including O2, Nokia and BT have all announced major free Wi-Fi zones for London and the long-heralded era of free, universal, public Wi-Fi in London looks set to finally come to fruition.

The feeding frenzy may be on, but how can the service be monetised effectively? One model that offers a way for Wi-Fi providers to monetise their hotspots is through supporting online advertising campaigns. The most popular Wi-Fi hotspots will, by their very nature, be in high footfall areas, so offer an opportunity for marketers to access an extremely receptive and captive audience.

By taking some basic registration information from those accessing free Wi-Fi services, companies can also easily target niche audiences by age, gender or occupation. Furthermore, as hotspots are highly location specific, companies can provided tailored marketing offers to consumers within the catchment area of certain shops or services (for example, 10% off at the nearby Starbucks).

Wi-Fi marketing also offers an opportunity to reach the demographic most advertisers are looking for (18 – 45 professionals with relatively high disposable incomes and savvy about technology), but struggle to reach through more traditional media channels.

I believe that this is just the beginning of the potential for location-based marketing through public Wi-Fi hotspots. With ever increasing opportunities to reach targeted consumers – and give them a reason to actively engage with the brand, rather than just passively consume it – this new media channel will be increasingly important for marketers.

So, is location-based marketing in your plans for 2012? And if not, why not?

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Chris Bull founded his first business, Selective Media, at just 19 years old. Formed in 2007, Selective Media is now the UK's leading location-based online media company. The business had almost no initial funding and has seen purely organic growth, becoming profitable within two months of launch. It now maintains an annual turnover in excess of £1m, and supports blue-chip clients including Nokia, Microsoft, American Express, British Airways and Sony. Selective Media was founded after Chris identified an opportunity to enable Wi-Fi providers to monetise an extremely receptive and captive audience. With consumer demand for free Wi-Fi services on the rise and both mobile and laptop devices becoming more data hungry, Selective Media created its own, unique advertising platform, which the majority of large Wi-Fi providers are now signed up to. Earlier this year, Selective Media brought Nokia and Spectrum Interactive together to launch free Wi-Fi across London. The rollout marked the first ever public Wi-Fi scheme in the UK specifically aimed at making it easier for people on the move to access online services for free. Prior to launching Selective Media, Chris worked as part of the team behind Mediarun, one of the largest UK based online ad networks, which was subsequently sold to Adknowledge in 2007. Chris is also a keen skier, water-skier and sailor and runs a private-hire helicopter business in his spare time.