I travel a lot. This week, it's with the family for Spring Break. Last week, it was a trip to NYC. Every time I pack my bags to hit the road, I can't help thinking about the unfulfilled promise of free wifi.
Does anyone else remember the days when free wifi was going to be available everywhere folks gathered? Cities across the country were promoting plans to roll out downtown networks. McD*nalds was the first of dozens of retailers who would make it free for customers to use wifi in their stores. Hotel lobbies and airports were right behind. Everyone was going to be connected to 10Mbps (or better) wireless internet goodness all the time. I even bought one of those cool “wifi detectors” knowing that if I found it, it would probably be free & easy to connect.
OK – so it wasn’t cool…whatever.
The point is that somewhere it all went horribly wrong – and I’m not entirely sure why. Cities pulled the plug, most hotels charge for it, 1 out of 5 airports gives it away, and you can almost guarantee that the larger the retailer, the more likely their wifi isn’t free (without some other string attached, at least).
I know one thing that happened was that the Service Providers, T-m*bile, Wayp*rt, Boing*, and others sprung up to monetize the early market by wholesaling access networks to companies who didn’t want to foot the bill to build one of their own. They had a “pay for access” model, and a revenue share for the company, to boot. Those of us who were traveling for work, and needed to connect at any price made it acceptable to pay $10 or $15 for an hour of access (we’re just going to expense it anyway, right?) – and this model seems to have stuck. Have companies and their traveling workforce enabled this model to survive, and kept these services from being free everywhere?
It seems like today, we are in a weird place with public wifi. It’s kind of available if you are willing to look for it – intentionally free some places, accidentally free some places, and (mostly) for a fee at some others. I intentionally choose to do business at the places where it’s free.
That's just me trying to do my part to make that wireless network future a reality.