Yes, free muni-WiFi and hotspots are in more and more cities (at last count, about 300), but the meaning of "free" may have to be redefined as the trend toward ad-supported services grows.
The latest to jump on the bandwagon is JiWire, which is now offering ad-supported WiFi through its relationship with Ultramercial. Users can avoid the ads by paying a monthly fee, otherwise the ads will appear prior to gaining free Internet access at hotspots. "It gives the user the choice whether they want to pay for content with traditional currency, or use the ads as currency," JiWire VP of marketing David Blumenfeld told ClickZ News. "You're using your eyeballs for currency instead of your wallet."
JiWire runs a directory of hotspots, and sells ads to run on WiFi provider networks. The company is thus likely to serve national brand ads through its Ultramercial agreement. Analysts believe that local ads will be more accepted by consumers. A recent Forrester Research report says ad-supported services could mean more services to consumers in their residences as well--for example, free and ad-supported broadband access could address the issue of price for more than half of the 60 percent of U.S. households still using dial-up or that have no access.
There are two issues ad-supported WiFi must address. First, consumer resistance to advertising. Consumers are resistant to more targeted advertising which relies on information about a consumer's location, income and age. Second, the business model of ad-supported WiFi is still being tested.
For more on ad-supported WiFi:
- see Enid Burns's ClickZ discussion