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The power of Free: Free Wifi

I’m sitting in the Departures Lounge at Helsinki airport, which now has end to end free wifi (I can see 3 or 4 different wifi stations here, on two channels). It’s the “open a web browser window first and hit a button to say “yes, I agree to your terms and conditions”” variety – took me a couple of attempts to check email until I woke up (it’s not yet dawn here!) and guessed what I’d need to do.

But the interesting thing is quite how much benefit the airport gets.

Modern airports, as entities, get a huge amount of their revenue from the shops inside them. I’m from the UK, where Heathrow (and to a lesser extent Gatwick) have taken this to extremes for decades, but it’s spread over most of Europe and much of the USA by now too.

Advising passengers that they must arrive 3 hours before a flight leaves is one way to make them spend lots of money. Cancelling their flights is another (the branch of the WHSmith’s newsagent inside Heathrow airport made vastly more profit than any other branch in 2007 thanks to the plane cancellations that year). Making the airport experience a pleasant one, so that people *don’t mind* coming early is yet another. Facilitating people “working” at the airport too.

And free wifi supports not one but two of those. Making it hassle-free and ubiquitous is the difference between me wiliingly turning up more than an hour before my flight, and what I would normally do (aim to arrive 30-45 minutes before an international flight, and waste as little time as possible).

This is a model of “free” that I feel is still under-explored in the game space: Free as driver of larger secondary monetized activity.

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