Wi-Fi Opens New Distribution Opportunities

With the rapid growth of global WiFi hotspots comes an opportunity to take a step back and rethink what WiFi does and what it can do in the future.

A lot has changed since 1999, Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace was the top grossing movie of the year with over $924 million in global revenue. The Backstreet Boys were on top of the charts with their Millennium album that sold over 11 million copies, and Excite CEO George Bell made one of the worst investment mistakes in history when he failed to buy Google for $750,000. In August of that year, the term WiFi was used commercially for the first time in history. The inaction of George Bell to acquire Google and the introduction of the term WiFi would end up changing the technology landscape forever.

Fast forward fifteen years later and it’s 2014 and Google has a market cap of $369.26 billion. The Walt Disney Company now owns the rights to Star Wars after buying Lucasfilm for $4 billion, and global WiFi hotspots are projected to grow to 7.1 million by 2015.

With the rapid growth of global WiFi hotspots comes an opportunity to take a step back and rethink what WiFi does and what it can do in the future.

A WiFi network currently creates value for individuals by allowing them to connect to the internet from a mobile device without having to pay for a data plan. In the future, a WiFi network will become a distribution platform for brands and content owners alike that creates value for users of the network. In London, MasterCard has partnered with public WiFi provider The Cloud to offer free WiFi access for MasterCard card members at over 22,000 hotspots. MasterCard is using the WiFi promotion to build brand awareness for their MasterCard Priceless Cities campaign.

Right now, free WiFi is only available to MasterCard cardholders who download the MasterCard Priceless London WiFi app prior to connecting to the free network. MasterCard has the right idea in mind, but in my opinion they didn’t completely think through the large opportunity presented in front of them. Yes, MasterCard is creating value for cardholders, but they are also creating friction by requiring users to download the MasterCard Priceless London WiFi app prior to traveling in order to connect to the network. This friction filled experience devalues the value proposition.

To truly execute a frictionless branded WiFi experience, brands have to take one step back and ask themselves;

Does this only benefit our brand or does it create value for our customers too?

If the answer only benefits the brands then the campaign was a non-starter. If the answer is this creates value and I would want to use this, then it’s a win for the brand and the user.

In Italy, Italian lawmakers have put forward a proposal to develop and launch a free WiFi network in thousands of public places. When Italian lawmakers start to think through the free WiFi proposal, they shouldn’t lose sight of the cultural importance of Italy and what WiFi can do to enhance the cultural experience for tourists. Sergio Boccadutri, a member of the ruling Democratic Party and sponsor of the proposal recently said, “Free WiFi would have a big cultural impact and help the economy recover, starting from industries such as tourism.”

While Mr. Boccadutri is correct, lawmakers must not get lost in the details of developing and launching a free WiFi network. Instead they should outsource this proposal to a firm with a proven track record of developing frictionless software that lives on top of WiFi networks. The software layer on top of the network will provide the true value to tourists in Italy, as it would grant them access to geo-targeted content based on their location that might be of interest to them from an Italian cultural perspective.

The operators of the WiFi network would then be able to offer value added services such as private tours and fast passes for museums. The data gathered from WiFi networks can create tremendous value for those individuals who choose to interact with the network. In Austin (TX), travelers waiting in the security line at the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport are now told how long the wait is in real-time on screens thanks in-part to data gathered from the WiFi network.

As more users start to connect to WiFi networks and brands such as MasterCard, governments such as Italy and airports such the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport start to use WiFi as a value added services, individuals benefit too. While individuals benefit from the increase in free WiFi access, this creates a business opportunity for brands and content owners to distribute their unique content over a global network that supports Passpoint to a highly targeted audience.

Imagine you take your family to Walt Disney World Resort and after a long day, your child is tired and ready for a nap. You put him or her in the stroller, pull out the iPad and connect to Disney Guest WiFi before handing it over to your child.

When you connect to Disney Guest WiFi, Disney knows that you are in the Magic Kingdom in Adventureland, based on your location and offers up complimentary hyper-targeted Disney content such as the Swiss Family Robinson movie.

You click play, hand the iPad over to your child to watch the movie and you enjoy the park.

Wi-Fi Opens New Distribution Opportunities is an article written by Brulte & Company Co-Founder Grayson Brulte that was originally published on SocialSign.in.

Sign up for IDEAS — Our weekly insight into innovation.