More On Fee Vs. Free WiFi

Uh oh. What have I done? In my response yesterday to Alan Reiter’s question when should you charge for WiFi, I seem to have set off a flurry of responses. Good news, though, is that I think we’re all nearly in agreement. Reiter takes what I wrote and goes into more detail along the same lines as I would have liked to (though, my post was too long already). He comes up with a conclusion that I completely agree with: “You survive and thrive through continuous, relentless improvements to core products and services and through continuous, relentless development of new products and services. Cash cow services all-too-quickly become dead ducks in the wireless data business.” I’d add that this is true in any technology business, and doesn’t just apply to wireless (but this is the wireless portion of the site, so that’s okay.

Then, Glenn Fleishman comes along and takes both what Alan wrote and what I wrote and writes up his own thoughts which go even deeper in a slightly different direction. He basically says (correct me if I’m wrong) that the spots that really can charge (since they will have no real or perceived competition) will all go under subscription fees provided by wider aggregators – and, thus, it won’t matter if each individual place chooses whether or not to charge – as long as they’re included under the subscription offering as well. I’m not sure I entirely agree, since part of that assumption seems to rely on the idea that enough people will find it worthwhile to buy such an additional subscription so they can use the service in those remote places that offer no other option. I can see this working for people who travel regularly – but not necessarily for others. Instead, I think the $20 charge that Glenn mentions is going to get pushed down until it’s very close (if not equal) to $0. It will actually be a little more than that (to account for brand) but will get bundled into basic mobile phone service. The various carriers are going to cause that to happen to be competitive. So, you’ll get “WiFi roaming” access as a standard feature with your mobile phone plan, just like you get “voicemail” today. Good stuff, though, just to get you thinking on a Friday in August!

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