One thing that strikes any first time visitor to Japan is the sheer number of vending machines that are scattered almost everywhere on streets, in malls, at railway stations, underpasses, even public toilets. Japanese people seem to be obsessed with them, after all, if they were not in demand there would be far less, surely.
They dispense almost every possible consumer good that will fit in them, everything from food, drinks, cosmetics, electronic goods, umbrellas, clothing even used ladies underwear for those so inclined (I kid you not). Many are ‘connected’ to some form of communications link for the purposes of monitoring stock levels, breakdowns, abuse and vandalism. It was only a matter of time for one enterprising vending machine merchant to link all the elements to drive more business to his particular dispenser.
Asahi Soft Drinks Co has developed a vending machine that provides free Wi-Fi connection to the internet, as well as drinks. The company said on its website that 1,000 Wi-Fi vending machines will be rolled out this month in Tokyo, Sendai, the Chubu and Kinki regions, as well as Fukuoka. It said it plans to expand the number to 10,000 within five years.
The free internet service, to be provided in association with Freemobile, will be available in two types. One will require registration via email, and one will not. Both services will be free of charge.
Asahi says that sessions will time out after 30 minutes, presumably to avoid queues, and that wireless hotspots will be available within a 50-meter radius of their vending machines. WPA2-PSK security will be provided.
What a generous company, you may be inclined to think, right? Well, not exactly, as more traditional retailers such as Starbucks and McDonalds discovered a long time ago, customers are attracted to stores that offer free Wi-Fi and they tend to buy more items the longer they stay, with the usual exceptions, of course.
Presumably, users of the Wi-Fi service will be standing in front of an Asahi vending machine long enough for the attractive contents of the machine to trigger a desire to purchase. Perhaps the Japanese trait of extreme politeness will even cause some people to buy a drink as a form of thank you to Asahi for being so kind in providing the service.
The Insider can see considerable benefit to Asahi having people registering their details and maybe even pushing messages to them as they pass by one of their vending machines. Nevertheless, the proliferation of Wi-Fi enabled vending machines will help mobile network operators by providing back-haul to manage those ever-increasing wireless data loads.
Novel as this service may seem, it doesn’t quite match that of PCCW in Hong Kong that has extended the life and usefulness of the fast-disappearing and humble phone box. If you have an overwhelming urge to connect to the internet via Wi-Fi and don’t have a mobile data plan you can simply slip into a PCCW phone box/booth and connect. Best to check if Superman is in there first, otherwise go right ahead. Despite the obvious lack of space - standing room only - and the assortment of refuse one usually finds, you will be relatively shielded from the elements.
Don’t believe me? Look below…