The battle for Wi-Fi in the city is a battle for data; it is becoming a new element in urban planning.
Soon Wi-Fi will be everywhere: stadiums, malls, movie theaters, airports, subways, stores, universities, cabs, train stations, parks, museums, convention centers, cities, you name it.... All public places with more or less captive audiences, at least captive for a while. Public places that may sometimes form location-based ad networks (cf. Premier Airport Network by MediaShift))... Major media operators are already present: Google, MSOs, telcos, BSkyB (The Cloud), Facebook (Facebook Wi-Fi), Apple (WiFiSlam).... Recent examples:
- Google is replacing AT&T in Starbucks, supplying free Wi-Fi in the 7000 US stores. Google will also offer free Wi-Fi in public places (parks, etc.) in San Francisco.
- Cable-operators Time Warner Cable and Cablevision are partnering with the City of New York to develop Wi-fi hotspots in public places.
- Comcast, the major American cable-operator, "turns Xfinity customers' home wireless gateways into Wi-Fi hotspots". Comcast also sells Wi-Fi services for stadiums in Denver, Boston and Philadelphia. For MSO, Wi-Fi is part of the job.
- The new San Francisco stadium (NFL 49ers') will be equipped with Wi-Fi for the public: "We see the stadium as a large data center," says the IT director of the San Francisco stadium.
- CNN Airport Network provides live streaming of its channel (simulcast) with the Advanced Wireless Group at the Miami Airport for tablets and smartphones. AWG is therefore coupling two kinds of audiences, at the airport and at home.
- Subway stations in New York get Wi-Fi (by Transit Wireless) which will become a "backbone for digital advertising".
- Apple acquired WiFiSlam for indoor location.
This kind of marketing will only work if both the consumer and the public place benefit from the exchange. It is and can only be a barter; the consumers gives their data in exchange for rewards: digital coupons, news, promotions, new offers, way-finding... and a free connection. All along, shopping is enhanced for both: customers can easily showroom (making comparisons, looking for coupons,, discounts, reviews, localizing products in the store, using shopping lists) and interact with the store, with brands. Not surprisingly, visitors prefer places with Wi-Fi.
A store is neither on-line nor off-line: now, it is both.
- With individual data one can build real-time analytics describing the activity in the place: cumulated traffic / reach, frequency (deduplication), total and average dwelling time, bounce rate, all of this according to the time (day parts), the place, habits, frequency of the visits, coupon redemption, consumer path, products bought, etc.). From there, one can predict intention (to buy, to subscribe, to unsubscribe, to recommend).... The visitor is treated off-line as on-line ; even retargeting is possible. One can imagine segmentations, variables and clusters never used before to analyze and explain visitor behavior. One can influence the consumer at the Point Of Sale ("Werben Sie dort, wo die Kaufentscheidung fällt": advertise where the buying decision is made, says ECE flatmedia).
- It is possible to draw maps visualizing, totalizing traffic and dwell time, designing hot and cool zones while following the shopper's path in the store (cf. retail analytics by RetailNext).
- One can figure out how many of the people who click on a mobile ad visit the related place (click-to-visit analytics by Sense Networks) or "place visit rate" (PlaceIQ).
This is very different from what is done without consent by companies like Renew London, which started a controversy because, in fact, they were "stealing" data.