If You're Going To Charge For WiFi, You Probably Should Make Sure It Works

from the just-a-suggestion dept

In the early days of WiFi hotspots, there was a fascinating discussion among many watchers of the space after Paul Boutin pointed out that all of the overhead associated with charging for WiFi (the billing, the access control, the customer support, etc.) most likely cost a lot more than the revenue rolling in from people paying for the WiFi. It appears that the folks at Chicago’s O’Hare airport may be learning that the hard way. The airport has been offering $6.95/day WiFi, but travelers are apparently complaining that the WiFi doesn’t actually work. Of course, people will often complain, but with free WiFi, at least people aren’t expecting nearly as much. Once the fee gets included, those who run the system pretty much need to make sure it can handle the users. So far, the best that anyone from the airport can claim is that the system is “somewhat less stable than we or you would like.” Of course, when most of your users are only there for an hour or two at most, stability is somewhat important. Then, of course, there’s the fact that they try to pass off some of the blame on flight delays, noting that the system is more likely to get bogged down during delays — and since O’Hare features the “worst flight delays in the nation,” it’s a fairly common occurrence. Somehow, that doesn’t seem likely to appease angry travelers. Update: Glenn Fleishman has a good followup on the story, claiming it’s not really that bad. It’s true that the original report has some questionable bits to it, and it turns out this network is simply a temporary “beta” network to have something up and running. However, if it is a beta network and can’t handle the traffic, why charge for it? You’re charging people for something that isn’t ready for prime time. Why not offer it for free until the “real” network is ready to go?

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Comments on “If You're Going To Charge For WiFi, You Probably Should Make Sure It Works”

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Glenn Fleishman (profile) says:

Citing UPI

Terrible article to cite.

First, it’s attributed to UPI, which is owned by the Rev. Moon, along with the Washington Times, and has lacked any pretense of accuracy or even quality for some time.

Second, the company wasn’t contacted for an opinion. A tech support person writing an email to a customer who complained is hardly a response from the company.

David Griffin (profile) says:

access at airports

I must say, the payphones at Denver with desks attached and nice modem sockets always worked for me. Didn’t even have to put a coin in to get thru to my toll free access number.
Of course, wireless is so much more advanced. I’m such a luddite…

But seriously, wireless for roving business folk is a concept whose day has passed. Real road warriors will have a way to do their work via the cell network now. Especially if the choice is $7 and a security / lemon risk.

Jason says:

Re: Home sharing

I really don’t think there is a way for the ISP to monitor this. I actually do this in my house with a neighboor 5 doors down who are less fortunate with the finances and need internet from time to time. Their usage has not affected mine in any way and I have been doing this for some time now and not had any complaints from the ISP.

Basil Fawlty says:

Re: Home sharing

I do it. My sister-in-law and her husband live next door and after our houses were built we ran Cat6 cable underground between the two. I give him $20/month for internet (his work pays for his).

We’re thinking of adding a wireless connection to allow our friends accross the street to access our media collection.

lar3ry says:

Pay-for-WiFi should go away

I’d have to have a good reason to use my laptop in an airport in the first place.

First… it’s a bother: open my laptop bag, power on the sucker, wait for it to boot, and then hope that there’s a hot spot around. When I see the “Enter your credit card for 24 hours of access” (Hey! What makes you think I’m going to be in an airport the whole day?), I sigh and log off, power down, and put the laptop back. Or… I have downloaded a book or two (thanks, Project Guttenberg!) or have a paperback also in my carry-on that will pass the time for me.

Why should I pay for WiFi? There are the security considerations to think about: can somebody piggy-back on my wireless connection and access my computer while I’m online? It’s possible, but that’s the nature of WiFi. Is wireless secure enough that nobody will be able to sniff my credit card number? NO!

I notice in my ticket price, there’s already an “airport access fee” that I pay just for the privilege of using that place as a stopping point between where I started and where I intend to go. What am I actually paying for? Those wonderful ergonomic chairs outside the gate that are only slightly more comfortable than the ones on the plane? Those motorized walkways that are always blocked by a family of seventeen that are just ooh-ing and ahh-ing about the news stand that they are passing? The TSA security checkpoints that offer a free body cavity search if your looks or name sounds vaguely Middle Eastern?

How would offering free WiFi access be a bad thing? If it’s free and it’s down, who will complain? At best, it could be used to project a POSITIVE image of the place to people that may use the fact that it’s freely available as a decision point the next time they fly…

The only reason there is for-pay WiFi at such places is that the management couldn’t be bothered to figure out how to do it themselves, so they give a contract to a hot-spot network to do it for them., who then extorts the money from the people that want to use it. It’s the wrong business model. Instead of using a pay-for hotspot network, get a real provider that will handle the access points, repeaters, hubs, etc. and not charge people to use it. It will cost the airport more up front, but, as I said, it can be one of the few things that people will remember the next time they fly.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Pay-for-WiFi should go away

Absolutely agree. I was stuck @ JFK for 4 hours last week when my flight was cancelled and was happy to note that I was able to hop on a network @ no charge in the Delta terminal to send a few emails.

This was little consolation as I had to wait 4 hours to fly into Sysracuse and then spend $75 on a rental car to drive the 90 miles to my house … arriving @ 1:30 AM.

Nevertheless, since I’m @ JFK every week it’s nice to know that I have the option and it doesn’t cost a cent (nor is it’s availability really advertised).

Anonymous Coward says:

2 points, maybe not interesting, maybe not on topic.

Can an ISP track if its customers are sharing? Maybe, maybe not, depends on the traffic and the bandwidth you would be taking up. One issue with sharing a connection is that if everyone is on at the same time, you are going to bump into each other as your traffic has to share the pipe so your service may slow down as they take up space. Also, security would be an issue, but the fact is, if one of my neighbors wanted to really hurt me, they would take my grill, not invade my computer. But yes, you do voilate your TOS by allowing others to use your connection.

As for airports, true road warriors really don’t need wifi access because they would have connection via EVDO or other wireless access. A unlimited data plan from a wireless carrier runs about $45 a month, and a road warrior would be saving money by having one of those plans instead of spending $6-14 a day in a hotel or airport.

Also, true road warriors don’t spend a whole lot of time in the airport unless their flight gets cancelled, and then they are probably off to a hotel.

Chris says:

Shared connections for ISP's

The answer is typically no. ISP’s generaly dont like it when one connection is being shared by anyone outside the customerr’s immediate family. Some ISP’s even used to charge for multiple computers, not sure if anyone still does. Typically you pay for a certain amount of bandwidth, and if you ever exceed that amount then you might get a call. The only thing ISP’s tend to log are bandwidth charts. So if you have 5 guys in a dorm torrenting off the same modem (odds are it’d lock up anyway) and you peak out the bandwidth charts for a couple days in a row your connection will either get throttled down, or they’ll increase your rates.

Charlie says:

Chicago Internuhhh access

Stranded in Chicago for hour after hour I decided to hop onto their wireless and play around on the Internet. The company was picking up the cost so why not… I mean, who doesn’t love the Internet.

I fire the trusty laptop up, get connected to the wireless with a very good signal. Launch the browser and register for access. I get my credit card information in and the “You are not connected” screen comes up. Then I get disconnected.

I refresh my avaliable network list… the “concourse” option is not there. I refresh again. Nothing. I repair my wireless connection, nothing. I reboot. I finaly see the network.

I log back into the network and start hanging out on the Internet. Sure, I have a very good connection but it is sllllooooowwwwwww because everyone else who is stranded is using their connection as well. About ten minutes later I get dropped again.

I refresh my avaliable network list… the “concourse” option is not there. I refresh again. Nothing. I repair my wireless connection, nothing. I reboot. I finaly see the network.

Not being one to quit so easily I charge galantly back onto the Internet and proceed to amuse myself. This lasts about 30 minutes until I am disconnected again.

I refresh my avaliable network list… the “concourse” option is not there. I refresh again. Nothing. I repair my wireless connection, nothing. I reboot. Nothing. I reboot again. Nothing. I repair again, nothing.

I decide to watch a DVD. About 30 minutes later I get the little bubble that “concourse” is now connected. So I do a little happy dance and click on Internet Explorer which magicly shuts down my access to the wireless network.

I turned off my wireless card and continued to watch my movie.

I was in Chicago for five hours. I had Internet access for maybe one.

In Cleveland I was in the airport for about the same amout of time and had Internet access from AT&T the entire time.

Maybe the delays from the planes at O’Hare cause the wireless to shut down due to the tails causing light to reflect a the wrong angle into the concourse and causing the access points to fail… my only other guess is that the guy winding the crank to provide Internet access gets tired every 20 minutes or so.

ehrichweiss says:

“worst flight delays in the nation,”

If I read correctly, it’s got the worst delays in the WORLD!! I hate that place, thanks to my one-time experience flying through there(and I should include the name of the piss poor airline, United..blech), I’ll never fly a commercial flight EVER. So I sympathize with anyone who has to deal with that place.

Jake says:

ABQ Airport Free WIFI

The City of Albuquerque has established free, stable and relatively fast WIFI at the Airport, all of the city libraries, and our downtown civic plaza. I’ve used it many times and I haven’t complained about the service yet.

Soon the city will offer free WIFI aboard some of the rapid transit buses and a commuter train.

Moutains, culture, great food and free WIFI – Who could ask for more?

Monarch says:

Chicago? You should go to Minneapolis/St.Paul Humphrey Terminal. I was there just over a week ago. Paid $7.95 for the day. And for the next hour and a half of usage, the connectivity kept dropping every 5-10 minutes.
Eventually I decided to buy the new Dan Brown book from the store nearby and sit and read while I waited the last few minutes for boarding.
I would have called their tech support number, but as it was a nationally based WiFi company for airports, I didn’t feel like holding for 10 minutes, and then talking to a Script Support person about the issue. Only to be ran through numerous and useless “Do this and Do That” with my own computer, when I know it’s their messed up network.

Mark says:

Ohare Worst WIFI

The O’Hare WIFI mess is a perfect example of how pathetic the airport administration is there. Just recently the FAA blocked additional flights into O’hare because it is already overloaded, and now the city is crying to get Jetblue and others there further causing worse delays. You can look at the traffic nightmares the toll booths around Chicago cause and tell the city doesn’t care about conveniences to the people…they only care about how much money they can suck from them everyday. As in the WIFI mess, it’s “throw it up, take the money…who cares about services…just get the money”.

I used the WIFI in O’hare three times. It was so bad that all 3 times I disputed the charge on my AmEx and there were no questions asked getting my $6.95 back.

Brandon Rusnak (user link) says:

OHare Fake WiFi Networks

I heard somewhere that a lot of the wifi networks at ohare are fake. I was at ohare with my laptop a few months ago and I believe the story is correct.

I saw a lot of ad-hoc connections labeled “free-wifi”. What’s that all about?

The concourse network was also a joke. Couldn’t connect about five gates down from the giant “Free Wifi” sign they had plastered up.

kbob says:

they'd make it free if they had any sense

No way OHare is going to make any serious money on this. They probably outsourced it b/c they’re too lazy to figure out how to set it up for free.

Seriously, I don’t get the $7-15 / day for Wifi that cafes, airports and hotels want to charge. You’ve got to figure that at least $4 per customer is eaten up by the accounting, billing, customer service (if any), and security infrastructure. Then the outsourcer is going to take the majority of the profits, leaving the site with probably minimal profits.

Plus, you’re just ticking off your potential customers, who will tend to avoid you. Why go to a cafe or hotel that charges when many don’t? Admittedly with airports, you don’t have as much choice, except for scheduling long layovers. But usually I just don’t bother getting online if I have to pay unless it’s an emergency.

Anyone know the economics of this stuff (setting up and running it yourself vs. outsourcing it)?

How much would free wifi really cost them? Maybe a few hundred a month for bandwidth, couple thousand to set up equipment and cabling, and then a minor amount every month to outsource maintenance. Seems like a small price to pay for keeping your customers happy.

Rich says:

If You're Going To Charge For WiFi

Actually, as the Fleishman article states, the ORD network, even it’s current “beta” form, is about as good as any other airport network. You should also note that Fleishman is a technical writer, while Hilkevitch is most decidely not: his article arose from trouble he had using his laptop (policy is to refund on demand) and cites a grand total of ONE annoyed passenger. ANY network slows down with heavy use, and with 45k+ users/month, it takes an awful lot to slow down this $1mil+ system. True, the mesh network now in place is “beta,” but only because it’s being replaced by something even better. Look for performance approaching 100 mb, and “greased lightning” connections in the next couple of weeks. Oh, and the $6.95 Day Pass fee is about the cheapest charged at ANY fee network in the country (industry standard is $9.95), is good at ANY Boingo Hot Spot for 24 hrs, and the fee won’t go up wth the introduction of improved service. Maybe that’s why this is the busiest airport network in the country, with a 95% customer satisfaction rate, and over 45k satisfied users monthly.

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