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.

4 thoughts on “The power of Free: Free Wifi

  1. Mark Baker

    I’d argue that to a certain extent, even free Downloadable Content on PS3/Xbox360 does this. How many less second hand sales of Burnout Paradise have their been due to the continuing feed of free updates? Thus, how many more ‘first hand’ sales has EA been able to get?

    I’d love to see some figures.

  2. adam Post author

    @mark

    agreed – but it doesn’t go very far: you say it guards against loss of sales, but how many *additional* sales does it drive?

    Note the lackluster response to DLC in the business side if the industry where it consistently seems indistinguishable from throwing money away.

    The difference is that free wifi has a provision/marginal cost close to zero. DLC would (does?) work towards this where the costs are similarly low.

    for instance: the classic “high score board”.

    it succeeds at generating sales perhaps not because people love competing, but because it’s free content that lasts forever;I.e. the driver of new sales is less direct than games companies often hope/expect/believe/rely upon.

    … then again, I’d only had 1 hhour sleep in 24, so my whole mental reasoning may me completely screwed right now ;). take with a pinch of salt

  3. Andrew Crystall

    Well, the problem with this sort of wifi to me is, quite simply, security. Many of these systems are highly insecure and let anyone read your traffic…there really does need to be a better authentication protocol for public wifi.

  4. adam Post author

    oh dear god, I agree.

    the best I could think of (I think about this a lot) is naming your wifi network “passwordis1” or similar and hoping people Reading the broadcast name are smart enough to work out the password.

    damn ****ing stupid protocol design though. it’s the one example of major Internet protocol I can rthink of where the authors were not “smart” but instead truly “dumb”

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