Free wifi continues to expand at a rapid clip. According to Reuters, tech giant Cisco Systems and social network giant Facebook will join forces to help hotels, retailers and other companies provide free wireless internet access.
Of course, they’re not doing this out of the kindness of their hearts. They’re both doing it to expand their own businesses. Cisco sees it as a way to sell more networking equipment and Facebook sees it as a way to sign up more consumers for its social network.
Reuters reports that they have been secretly testing the their idea for nearly a year. So far they’ve been working with smaller businesses, but the plan is to roll it out to larger companies (like the hotels, restaurants and coffee shops) that want to offer free wifi to increase customer loyalty or to take a closer look at their customers buying habits.
Let’s use a coffee shop as an example of how it would work. Instead of going up to the counter and asking for the day’s access code (like you typically have to do now), you would jump on the shop’s wifi system in a simple two-step process: (1) Long onto your Facebook account, and (2) checking in on the coffee shop’s Facebook page.
Sounds simple, doesn’t it? And it’s easy to see how Cisco and Facebook would both profit by offering something for free.
John Chambers, Cisco’s CEO, spoke recently at the Interop technology conference in New York. He revealed that the Facebook-Cisco system would help retailers, restaurants, coffee shops and thousands of other companies aim extremely targeted promotions and information to their customers. He said they call the system Connected Mobile Experience Wi-Fi technology.
Obviously, Cisco will sell more networking equipment if thousands of hotels, restaurants and coffee shops sign up for the system. But what does Facebook get out of it? The answer is really simple.
Facebook wants to help its users (and hopefully, millions of new users who sign up because they like the flexibility offered by the Connected Mobile Experience) connect to the Internet because it will increase the amount of time they spend on Facebook and on the companies’ websites.
Of course, Facebook is also very (we can’t emphasize the word “very” enough) interested in strengthening its corporate relationships by providing the hotels, restaurants and other companies with demographic data about Facebook using customers.
Ahh, but let’s get back to the part about Facebook and Cisco offering this great service for free. Not quite. Although it would, in fact, be free for consumers, it turns out merchants would be required to pay for all the network equipment and broadband costs.
Although this is the latest “free” internet offer to come from a high tech, it’s certainly not the only one. Google announced a few months ago that it was working on a plan to offer free wifi access to every Starbucks coffee shop in the United States. All 7,000 of them.
Clearly, plans to bring cheap internet and free internet are quickly expanding across the nation. More cities, more corporations, and more technologies are joining forces to make it far easier for you to get online wherever and whenever you want.