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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  1. identicon
    lar3ry, 3 Oct 2006 @ 5:10am

    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.

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