Don’t waste this wireless opportunity

Miraflores in Lima, Peru has free Wi-Fi in all public spaces.

Miraflores in Lima, Peru has free Wi-Fi in all public spaces.

Simple offering = higher usage = benefits for the area

With any new public project there is the potential to get it very right, or very very wrong, and with Cardiff council’s announcement of their intention to roll out free Wi-Fi throughout the city centre and Cardiff Bay they have the opportunity for it to be amazingly useful, or amazingly useless.

Free public Wi-Fi would mainly appeal to three groups; business users, tourists and casual users. It would be very important not to target, or exclude, any one group.

As an “anywhere worker” I use free Wi-Fi regularly, mostly provided at coffee shops, bars and restaurants where the connection is unlimited and unrestricted.  They’re usually protected by WPA (encryption), so you just ask for the password, or at bigger chains like Starbucks it’s connect and go.

Having free Wi-Fi or not is a deciding factor on where I spend my mornings/afternoons working. For example, I spend more time at Caffe Nero than I do at Coffee#1 because Nero has free Wi-Fi and Coffee#1 do not, however when I’m not working I prefer Coffee#1. Caffe Nero therefore get about £10 a day out of me while I sit there for the life of my laptop battery and work.

Free Wi-Fi is also a bonus for tourism – I recently visited Lima, Peru and one of the districts, Miraflores, has a big public Wi-Fi initiative and has connected all their public spaces. People sit on benches surfing on their iPads and kids peer over their friends shoulders laughing at pictures on Facebook. There is no registration, you connect to the hotspot and go.
For me, being abroad and with mobile data turned off on my phone, free public Wi-Fi drew me to the parks to sit and catch up with news, email, and friends on social media. It is also a talking point between tourists, as it’s a unique feature. The result is a lot more people in public spaces, because there is more to do there.

Bringing people to the area is the main aim of a project like this. The idea is that if people gravitate somewhere for this service then they will spend more time there and spend more with the businesses in the area, or it could be used to fill up public spaces that may currently be underused.

Here are some “features” that could be thrown in that would kill it, and make it wholly undesirable:

Compulsory log-in/registration
Requiring a user to register for a service like this is pointless. The service cannot be tailored to the user with any real benefit. Details cannot be verified so to cite taking user details for “security purposes” would be fruitless; who is going to register using their real details and then commit crimes online, seriously? The only purpose for registration with a free Wi-Fi service, as you have with The Cloud and other providers, is to collect data which is later sold for profit. Cardiff’s free Wi-Fi offering should be connect and go.

Time limitations
Why? The cost of the service to the council will not vary based on how many minutes somebody is connected, or how many megabytes they send and receive, so why limit their online time? The point of the service is to draw people to the areas that it is available, why only keep them there for 30 minutes?

It’s a simple concept really – set up lots of hotspots with good range to get good coverage, set it up to be click and connect (perhaps a welcome screen with a “connect” button could be tolerated), and have no limitation on how much of it you can use.

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