Fon isn't the only vendor stepping up its free WiFi game in the US market. Gowex is also hoping to up the ante: Like Fon, it's from Madrid, Spain; taking a social approach to WiFi; and has the end goal of making WiFi a win-win for everyone. But, the company says it has a decidedly unique approach to offload. (See Gowex Takes Its WiFi Model to New York.)
Unlike Fon , which incentivizes end-users to share their own WiFi networks with other users in the network, Gowex 's approach to WiFi is built on open networks, social interaction, and monetization. It leans on the cities it’s operating in and calls for network operators and businesses to open up their private access points free to those registered on Gowex's network. (See AT&T Strikes WiFi Deal With Fon.)
The company already has 2,000 WiFi hotspots across NYC, and starting on December 15, it will begin expanding "aggressively across the busiest corridors of Manhattan, Queens and The Bronx" with both outdoor and indoor hotspots from its retail partners. By 2020, it plans to expand to more than 300 cities.
The idea is that by working together, operators get much-needed data offload, businesses get a vehicle for promotions, customer interaction, and more data on who is using their network, and consumers get free WiFi access in NYC and across Gowex's entire network, which also includes 80 other cities across the globe.
To add in the social layer, the We2 app will connect hotspot users to others using the same access point. Gowex general manager Carlos Gómez says it is entirely up to the customer if they want to be visible on the network for interaction. If they choose to make their presence known, they can see who else is using the same hotspot, initiate a chat, or even connect in real-time with the business user to ask a question or voice a complaint.
"We're going beyond the connectivity to provide something else, the channel by which people can have a relationship," Gómez says. "It's a two-sided market where users are reinforcing people positively."
Gowex already has WiFi roaming relationships with operators like AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) and Deutsche Telekom AG (NYSE: DT), but Gómez says it's interested in being the single point of contact for more wireless operators, as well as cable companies that are using WiFi to build a mobile presence.
Gowex is also leaning heavily on the city to do its part. The company got its start building municipal WiFi network deals with cities, which pay to use its network. In NYC, the New York City Economic Development Corporation will help Gowex expand its network of hotspots.
Why this matters
As operators get more comfortable with their WiFi offload strategies and the experience improves, you can bet the next step is finding ways to monetize it. Gowex thinks it has an approach that's a win-win for everyone. People are already accustomed to using businesses' WiFi networks, and We-2 lets the operator or business take advantage of that connection to interact with their customers and, importantly, their identifying data.
This is an idea that's catching on across the industry. Last month Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) and Facebook announced similar functionality, letting users sign into WiFi networks with their Facebook log-in, sharing their demographic information with the business in the process. Devicescape Software Inc. is also enabling promotional capabilities for its retail customers in the small to midsized business space. (See In the Air Tonight: Cisco & Facebook's WiFi Tie-Up and CTIA: AT&T Works on Wi-Fi Integration.)
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— Sarah Reedy, Senior Editor, Light Reading