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Any business where people congregate or spend time away from their home or office could benefit by offering Wi-Fi Wireless High Speed Internet Access. Examples - hotel, convention center, cafe, coffee shop, bookstore, restaurant, brew pub, laundromat, bed & breakfast, auto service waiting area, truck stops, RV parks, etc. Many people who own a laptop computer of other Wireless Internet enabled device will appreciate being able to stay "connected" while at these places.

It's quite easy for any business considering offering access to assess the potential use of a Wireless Internet connection by their customers - just ask them. A little market research survey that asks if they own a wireless enabled laptop computer or other capable device and if they'd use the access if it were available will help determine if it's a good idea for that location.

While there are many locations that offer fee based access we suggest a better alternative - Build a Wi-Fi-FreeSpot™! and give your customers FREE Wi-Fi access.

Just take a look at the listings in the Wi-Fi-FreeSpot Directory and you'll see many business owners who have chosen to offer FREE Wi-Fi access.

Building your own Wi-Fi-FreeSpot is easy and affordable. Basically, all you need is a broadband high speed internet connection (cable, satellite or DSL), a router/access point/gateway device (the hardware device that broadcasts the connection via radio waves to wireless enabled devices) and access to a computer (for configuring the broadcast device). Alternatively, there are several software products that can convert a computer into a router, access point or gateway.

Some broadcast devices allow for the cable broadband to be plugged directly into the back of the device. Others will require that a modem be used. In this case, the broadcast signal cable plugs into the modem and an ethernet cable connects the modem to the broadcast device. Tell your broadband high speed internet signal provider you are setting up a wireless network and they will assist you in choosing the right hardware.

Many business contracts for cable, satellite or DSL do not prohibit sharing the connection but it is very important to read your selected provider's end user license agreements (EULA) before committing to sharing your broadband connection with your customers for free. If they don't allow it look for one who will.

What will it cost?

A simple WLAN (Wireless Local Area Network) for a coffee shop or similar establishment needs a broadband high speed internet connection and a router/access point/gateway broadcast device. This will enable multiple users within 100-300 feet or so of the broadcast device to share the broadband connection.

A business class cable, satellite or DSL broadband connection costs approximately $60 a month.

Broadcast devices (802.11g are the most popular) cost anywhere from $40 - $100.

Visit our What Products Do I Need? page for a list of manufacturers who offer Wi-Fi products and network services.

To configure your broadcast device you'll also need a computer. Check the specs on the model you choose. Some can only be configured on a PC. If you have a Mac you'll need to choose a model that can be configured on a Mac.

You can use your existing business computer (you will need to install a Wireless or Ethernet adapter if you don't already have one) or you can purchase one or bring in a laptop just for the configuration.

In summation, basic set-up hardware costs can be as little as $40 and monthly broadband connection costs will be around $80-150.

Is it easy to set up?

Yes. Instructions and support will be provided by the broadband connection provider and the router/access point/gateway manufacturer you choose (or the software provider if you choose that configuration). The most important step is the placement of the broadcast device to make sure it reaches as much of your location as possible (interior walls and construction materials in the building can effect signal strength). Try walking around with a laptop to assess the signal strength in different areas and adjust the device's placement accordingly. If doing it yourself sounds too difficult you should look for a "computer networking" expert in your area or contact a hotspot management provider you find on the vendors page. Read these Interesting FAQS for more info.

Boston's newburyopen.net is building a network of hotspots in the Newbury Street area that share a T1 connection and offer free access. You can read their white paper (.pdf file - Adobe Acrobat Reader Required) for more information on how you and your business neighbors can build a similar network here.

What do my customers need to access my Wi-Fi-FreeSpot?

Millions of people already own laptops and PDAs. In order to connect at your Wi-Fi-FreeSpot they'll need a Wireless adapter card for that device. Cards come pre-installed with many of the newest models or they can be purchase for about $50-90.

Why should I give it away for Free?

Are you looking for a way to distinguish your business from your competitors? Do you want new customers? Do you want to increase sales? One way for commercial businesses to distinguish themselves in competitive marketplaces is by providing free public Wi-Fi access for their customers.

"It is possible, though, that free WiFi service could be leveraged as a competitive advantage by hotels and retail establishments as a way to generate more revenues from the core businesses. But there is little doubt that the cost of WiFi hardware is falling and installation is simple at many locations. After all, how many people have installed their own cellular networks at home?! For many small businesses, the cost of WiFi hardware will not be a consideration." - Alan Reiter president of Wireless Internet & Mobile Computing, a Chevy Chase, Md. consulting firm. Alan has been analyzing wireless for 24 years and the quote is from Reiter's Wireless Data Web Log - January 2003

"Meanwhile, those who run paid hotspots say that people will pay for their services because of the "quality". Of course, it won't take people very long to figure out the quality is about the same in most places. I still think that the establishments (restaurants, coffee shops, bookstores, whatever) that offer for fee hotspots are missing the point. Offering free WiFi is likely to bring in more customers who will buy whatever products they're actually selling. They should focus on what their business is, and not worry about becoming an ISP. The free WiFi acts as a promotional item. Paid-for WiFi becomes another product on their menu - which takes them out of their area of expertise." Mike Masnick - Tech Dirt Wireless News - February 2003

"If you own a small coffee shop, you might be better off giving away the Wi-Fi service in the hopes of selling more drinks and snacks." - Lee Barken, Mobile Business Advisor Magazine - October 2002

"WLAN hotspots should be considered as marketing tools rather than profit centers" - Tammy Parker, analyst for the ARC Group of London, England and author of their recent report on "hotspots" - July 2002.

Stick to the core competence of your business and offer free Wi-Fi access as an amenity that acts as a promotional tool that will help bring in more customers and please the ones you already have.

Here's another reason for opting to be a Wi-Fi-FreeSpot - members of Boingo or any of the other hotspot aggregator networks who sell subscription based access are restricted to using hotspots in their network or a network with a roaming agreement. If they can't find one nearby when they need access they are out of luck. Members of any network can use a Wi-Fi-FreeSpot and become your customer.

 


 

Yes, we advocate offering Free wireless internet access, but, as explained above, there are costs involved in setting up a Wi-Fi-FreeSpot.

You may choose to absorb the cost of setting up a Wi-Fi-FreeSpot in expectation of increased profits but there is an alternative way of recouping the start-up costs and covering the monthly costs.... offer local advertisement and/or sponsorship space. If you can send customers to a customized "welcome" sign-in screen before they surf the web or check e-mail they could see a message from your advertisers/sponsors and your own promotion messages.

Also, you can put up signage thanking your sponsors on the walls/windows of your business and you can offer advertising space on a printed log on instruction sheet you might provide to new customers..

"Free Wi-Fi access is brought to you by ....................."

Your customers are a good market for other retailers in your neigborhood. Advertising on a "welcome" screen offers a unique opportunity for neighborhood businesses to present ads that are timely and location targeted. Picture a FreeSpot customer viewing an ad for a special event or sale that is taking place nearby and right now. The ability to create an immediate response from a highly targeted audience is the dream of every advertiser. The fact that a FreeSpot owner can make the ad space available at a very affordable cost is also a very big plus. You can visit the Vendors page for more Captive portal/Welcome Screen info.

Sputnik's SputnikNet Express offers a great package deal that will enable businesses to create custom welcome pages that include maps, search, and links to local content such as movie listings and weather, provided by Google or Yahoo!.

Purple wifi - a public hotspot system harnessing the power of social media (UK based)

There is another benefit to forming relationships with other retailers. Ask them to spread the word about you. They can have signage that says "We support the Free Wi-Fi access at ..............."

Free minutes of access in exchange for each purchase is another alternative to consider.

Whether you choose to absorb all the costs of free access, underwrite the costs with advertising support or offer free access in exchange for purchases we think opening a Wi-Fi FreeSpot that offers free public access will benefit your business and your customers!

Read the Free Wi-Fi News Weblog for updates to the Wi-Fi-FreeSpot Directory and other Wi-Fi news.