Pick up any gadget or item of ‘technology’ now and you will probably see that little symbol of waves radiating out, that globally now signifies Wi-Fi. It is here, it offers massively increased functionality but still is not really being properly exploited.
Wireless connectivity has been around and in use in most homes now for a number of years but still in public places, in retail outlets, even frustratingly in many conferencing venues, the strength and avialability of Wi-Fi is hit and miss and sometimes non-existant.
Last week Marks and Spencer announced a new initiative to roll-out free public Wi-Fi in a select number of stores which could lead a massive sea-change in the retail sector. While almost every retailer has a smartphone app – some encouraging you to tweet or share from in-store when you try on a garment, etc – too few of the retailers have any Wi-Fi connectivity.
What’s more because most are located deep inside concrete and metal clad shopping malls, very few even have 3G mobile coverage. So when we are becoming more and more dependant on our mobile technology one of the only places on the planet we probably can’t use it is when in a high street or shopping centre store – is it any wonder sales are down.
This week in London it was announced that Virgin Media will be providing Wi-Fi from the summer – only just in time for the Olympics – across 80 London Underground stations. Finally, funcionality when people are stuck on the tube as a captive audience. Yet even that is justa short free trial, with functionality later being limited to Virgin’s existing customer base on a pay as you go basis.
Both BT and O2 have made announcements, run trials and never really gone much further with their own public network Wi-Fi ideas and several cafe outlets, hotels, etc use services like Sky’s The Cloud, but with a cost and the need for accounts to be set-up, the ‘convenience’ factor is often lost when you only want to perhaps check your email for 5 minutes while you wait for a friend to turn-up.
The barrier is probably cost. What benefit is there when the risk is a massive bandwidth draw from people walking around with 1.2 smartphones in their pocket? Yet, wouldn’t it be nice to see somebody take a punt on it, perhaps pushing advertising at the user base, but also gaining masses of publicity and gratitude by being the one company who finally lifted out public spaces into the 21st century…