More and more airports, restaurants and hotels in South Africa are offering ‘free Wi-Fi’, which actually does not amount to a row of beans in terms of added value for consumers.
In the vast majority of cases all this means is you can connect free of charge to a Wi-Fi router but in order to connect to the internet you have to pay.
What I am waiting for is an increase in places like airports, restaurants and hotels that offer free ‘internet’ access.
I have just returned from a trip to the Far East where ‘Free Wi-Fi’ actually means free internet access.
Changi Airport in Singapore is a prime example. And in Thailand every little roadside restaurant has the same free internet access facility.
But the big question of course, is whether offering free internet access is on par with the massive mistake the newspaper industry made by offering free access to their websites. To the point where consumers quite logically stopped paying money for newspapers and just read the same content online.
I had to ask myself, sitting at various Far East airports, precisely what they were getting out of my chewing up their free bandwidth checking my emails, updating Twitter and Facebook and reading dozens of free online newspapers?
On the face if, there doesn’t look like a single benefit for the airport operators.
When it comes to hotels and restaurants, it makes more sense. Most of them here in South Africa, like our airports just allow free Wi-Fi so there is hardly any competitive advantage.
Overseas many establishments offer free internet access in exchange for an email address or mobile number.
This allows them to ask every now and then that you rate them on Trip Advisor and similar travel apps.
These are the people who realise that websites such as Trip Advisor are playing an increasingly important role when it comes to consumers choosing hotels, restaurants and the like.
On balance there is no question that offering free internet access to consumers has more advantages than disadvantages if it is done properly. If data is analysed and put to good use.
Because, while I might have thought that those Far Eastern airports were getting nothing out of me while I was gaily using up their bandwidth, the cookies I was creating, for example, would give them all sorts of insights into travellers’ desires, aspirations, habits and so forth.
Quite apart from which, instead of having to walk around trying to find information boards at any airport or big shopping malls, free internet access allows one to find shops, products, and restaurants very quickly.
The benefits of free internet access rather than just gratuitous Wi-Fi are endless.
The internet is not a medium; it is not a place; it is a portal.
And it is no good offering consumers access to a portal and then making them pay to get in.
Just as it is equally ludicrous for Woolworths for example, to charge people to come into their stores.
South Africa is way behind when it comes to intelligent use of the internet. In marketing and media terms, the internet is incredibly powerful.
But, it needs to be managed properly.
By the media and big business.