The Smart Hotel Minibar, And Free WiFi

At Techdirt, Mike and I often argue over how much WiFi should cost. We both agree that some hotspots should be free, and some should charge, depending on the circumstances. What we end up debating is the grey areas in between where I am pro-charge, and he is more pro-free. Well, here’s an idea we both like: the Willard InterContinental Hotel in Washington, D.C, has installed a ‘smart minibar’ that allows guests to scan the product they remove from the bar for instant billing, and uses a wireless network to pass the data to the front desk. The super thing is that the simplified billing stimulates demand for minibar contents, and thus pays for the WiFi network. The WiFi network is “also” offered to guests for free Internet connectivity. All of us at Techdirt love it when we see a network that amortizes itself with a valid, non-hotspot business model, and then is able to offer connectivity for free. Everyone wins, and the hotel becomes more attractive to guests. The system was installed by Bartech Systems International. Mike adds: While I’m all for other uses of WiFi letting it be offered for free to customers (which I think becomes a necessity in competitive situations), I’m less enthused about the overall chances of such a minibar. I’ve written about high tech minibars since 2000, and the one trend seems to be that not many people use them. If anything, they tend to confuse or annoy many people.

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