Computerworld says free Wi-Fi is an effective markeiting tool:
- Cities and community development organizations across the country have embraced free Wi-Fi to boost economic development and attract visitors to downtown areas. A handful of small airports in the shadow of large hubs offer free Wi-Fi to attract travelers. And Verizon Communications Inc. in New York offers Wi-Fi free of charge to its Internet service subscribers to distinguish itself from its cable-modem rivals.
Operators of free Wi-Fi hot spots are capitalizing on the boom market in Wi-Fi-enabled notebook and handheld computers. Gemma Paulo, an analyst at In-Stat/MDR in Scottsdale, Ariz., estimates that shipments of notebooks equipped with industry-standard 802.11b chips or cards—which offer a raw data rate of 11Mbit/sec. at a range of 100 feet indoors and 300 feet outdoors—will hit 16 million this year.
….John Wooley, chairman, CEO and president of restaurant chain Schlotzsky’s Inc. in Austin, isn’t so shy in sharing details of what he calls the “strong ROI” from the company’s free Wi-Fi service. Schlotzsky’s currently offers free Wi-Fi in 30 of its 600 company-owned or franchised Schlotzsky’s Delis. Wooley says he figures that the free Wi-Fi results in an additional 15,000 visits per restaurant per year by customers who spend an average of $7 per visit.
That means Wi-Fi service brings in more than $100,000 per year per outlet in return for an investment of about $8,000 per restaurant for wireless infrastructure, Wooley says. The largest continuing cost is backhaul to the Internet over 1.54Mbit/sec. T1 circuits, Wooley says. Since the cost of a T1 circuit varies from $300 to $700, depending on what part of the country you’re in, he says Schlotzsky’s would average those costs to induce existing franchisees to offer the service. (New franchisees will be required to offer free Wi-Fi, Wooley notes.)
Wooley also uses the free Wi-Fi service as a high-tech marketing tool. When wireless users first connect to the Schlotzsky’s Wi-Fi network, they’re shunted to an in-house “splash” Web page that the chain uses to promote itself and its bill of fare.
….Panera Bread Co., based in Richmond Heights, Mo., has also embraced free Wi-Fi as a marketing tool and plans to offer the service in 130 of its 600 bakery cafes by year’s end, eventually extending the service chainwide. Ron Shaich, the company’s chairman and CEO, says he views free Wi-Fi as an amenity that has already started to attract and retain customers at what he calls a “minimal cost.”
….Keith Pierce, president and CEO of Parsippany, N.J.-based Wingate Inns International Inc. says he has enlisted free Wi-Fi as his newest weapon in a technology arms race to attract budget-minded business travelers. Pierce says Wingate, a division of travel conglomerate Cendant Corp., started offering free wired Internet access four years ago as part of an all-inclusive room rate that also included free local phone calls and free use of on-premises business centers.
Now that competitors have started to offer free wired Internet service, Pierce has raised the ante by rolling out free Wi-Fi throughout the chain, with all 100-plus properties expected to offer the service by the start of next year.
….Apple Core Hotels Inc., a New York-based operator of six budget hotels in mid-Manhattan that cater to business travelers, knew it needed to offer free Internet access for competitive reasons, says Vijay Dandapani, the company’s chief operating officer. Dandapani says Apple Core chose Wi-Fi instead of Ethernet because it was far easier and cheaper to install in the company’s hotels, which are rehabilitated buildings that are all at least 100 years old.
Installing Ethernet connections would have required drilling into walls and “making a mess” of wallpaper and carpet, Dandapani says. Installation of the Wi-Fi service went quickly, he adds, taking about six weeks per property.
….Beachfront Hawaii might be the last place you’d expect to find a Wi-Fi hot spot, but Waimea Plantation Cottages on the island of Kauai operates what’s probably the westernmost Wi-Fi service the U.S., free or paid. It’s five miles from the end of a dead-end road on Kauai’s western shore.
Liz Hahn, a spokeswoman for Kikiaoloa Land Co. in Waimea, Hawaii, which operates the cottages, says the company decided to offer free Wi-Fi as a perk to guests to enhance their vacation experience. “People can get up in the morning, check their e-mail and then spend the rest of day relaxing,” Hahn says.
Okay, now you’ve gone too far. I take that back, we have taken laptops to Hawaii and checked our email, BUT NOT EVERYDAY.