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The Case for Free WiFi?

Cliff posted more than 9 years ago | from the 802.11-packets-want-to-be-free dept.

Wireless Networking 576

lgreco writes "Recently I was trying to convince a business man who is about to open an Internet Cafe, to provide WiFi at no charge. I argued about increased business and royalty and proposed that the infrastructure cost these days is reasonable and the recurring cost, along with the amortized payoff of the initial investment, can be recovered by adding a few cents to each beverage, etc. In spite of the numerous discussions on the merits of free WiFi v. paid at coffee shops, restaurants, etc, I was interested in hearing what do you think about the issue and if there are solid examples of successful businesses that offered free WiFi." If you were going to argue for or against this issue, what arguments would you use?"A lot of proprietors seem to be concerned about the maintenance issue. Not so much about the hardware maintenance than software: auditing etc. Some are also concerned about legal ramifications if their customers are caught downloading music or movies illegally.

I am not aware of any Internet cafe or similar business that got hit by our beloved RIAA but what if their lawyers subpoena a small proprietor for download records? If you are running a shoestring infrastructure with a cable modem with an Airport base station what kind of logs could you possibly proviide? If a kid walks in for a lemonade and starts downloading porn what do you tell the parents when they sent their lawyer to pay you a visit?

It would seem that if you let a provider offer the WiFi service at your place of business for a fee, they can deal with liabilities, maintenance etc, so this is one less thing to worry about when setting up the business. Yet expecting your customers to pay $6-$10/hr for WiFi is so ridiculous and such a turn off for them."

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Panera... (4, Informative)

garcia (6573) | more than 9 years ago | (#13197084)

I was interested in hearing what do you think about the issue and if there are solid examples of successful businesses that offered free WiFi.

Panera [] has the largest (or one of) free wifi network out there.

The Fine Print (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#13197171)

This Paid Slashvertisment brought to you by Garcia

Re:The Fine Print (1)

garcia (6573) | more than 9 years ago | (#13197225)

Hmm, I wish I got paid. Even if they gave me free coffee so I wouldn't have to pay every Sunday when we go there.

I'm not an employee, happy customer, or otherwise. I'm just pointing out that Panera offers free WiFi and happens to be one of the largest (if not the largest) free WiFi providers out there.

I argued about increased business and royalty (2, Funny)

mmmuttly (631983) | more than 9 years ago | (#13197232)

I argued about increased business and royalty and proposed that the infrastructure cost these days is reasonable Lemme get this straight - You put in WiFi and suddenly royalty wants to patronize your coffee shop? Who knew the Queen Mum was into wireless? Is she a java junky and the whole tea thing is just for the tourists? Hell, she's probably lurking on Shashdot as we speak, waiting to drag out some "In Soviet Russia..." cliche.

Re:Panera... (3, Informative)

Kolisar (665024) | more than 9 years ago | (#13197252)

For what it is worth, a friend of mine does a lot of his business related work in Paneras in the area because of the free WiFi. He also spends a reasonable amount of money there as he is more likely to eat there since he is already there checking email, etc... And, so as to not feel guilty, if he is not there around meal time he will at least purchase a beverage. The free WiFi brings him there as opposed to going to StarBucks or other locations that charge for WiFi access.

Re:Panera... (1)

op12 (830015) | more than 9 years ago | (#13197296)

as to not feel guilty, if he is not there around meal time he will at least purchase a beverage

Moral of the story: Make wi-fi free and charge $10 for a beverage.

Re:Panera... (3, Insightful)

ooby (729259) | more than 9 years ago | (#13197272)

I think that by slightly increasing the cost of each other product to offset the cost of providing a free service that not everyone uses is very cost effective. When you go into a cafe with free WiFi, you never see a notebook in front of every patron. One can suspect that the bandwidth demand is small, so the proprietor of such an establishment would not need to spend extra money on a wider pipeline. You provide a feature few will use and everybody says, "They've got WiFi." They go there and think, "This place has WiFi, if I ever had a laptop and a need to check my email while drinking my coffee, maybe I'd bring it here."

If it is going to be an "Internet Cafe"... (2, Insightful)

brunes69 (86786) | more than 9 years ago | (#13197086)

... then what is the difference between if the customers have free access to wired terminals, or if there is free WiFi?

Re:If it is going to be an "Internet Cafe"... (3, Informative)

ICLKennyG (899257) | more than 9 years ago | (#13197204)

The cost.... a WAP - a good one at that costs less than $300 US... a single terminal is at least that much. And then there's the fact that there is only one... and you have to maintain them. Laptops abound, let them just bring them in and use them.
Additionally I would say if you could do an automatically generated access code for paying customers then it definatly would outwiegh paid WiFi in the long run. Just look at it as this...
$5/hr - maybe 300 people use it all month... $50/Day
1000 beverages a day 10cents each.. $100 day...

Re:If it is going to be an "Internet Cafe"... (1)

obdulio (410122) | more than 9 years ago | (#13197214)

To use my notebook.....

Re:If it is going to be an "Internet Cafe"... (2, Interesting)

Kiaser Wilhelm II (902309) | more than 9 years ago | (#13197228)

Much higher cost for the business to have terminals (coffee getting spilled into them seems like an obvious problem), less conveience for the customers (how do you arrange the machines in such a way to have a healthy social atmosphere?)

businesspeople will also not be able to log into their corporate VPNs without their laptops or do most business related tasks.

i'll take free wifi any day over terminals

Re:If it is going to be an "Internet Cafe"... (1)

RedSteve (690399) | more than 9 years ago | (#13197245)

Very simply, it's more expensive to provide free terminals than it is free access points. Wired terminals mean that computers are already in place -- which have presumably been bought and installed by the owner of the establishment. With WiFi, however, the owner only provides an access point, and the customers supply the computer.

Would you have to card users? (1)

donleyp (745680) | more than 9 years ago | (#13197091)

A couple of points RE: potential liabilities.

Maybe you should card customers before allowing them to use the WiFi. This would at least make it so that you didn't have to worry about the very touchy subject of minors accessing adult material.

One solution might be to secure the network with WEP and hand out the key to people who identified themselves and signed an EULA.

Parental controls could be used, but that might be inadvisable because once you start filtering, you may take on legal responsibilities.

All-in-all, I don't see a compelling argument for it that would outweigh the potential legal ramifications in our litigious society.

Re:Would you have to card users? (1)

Pxtl (151020) | more than 9 years ago | (#13197190)

I've seen many internet cafes (LAN shops, whatever you want to call them) and I've never seen one card or run parental controls. I think the better idea would be just to require that people get a uname/pwd at the front counter before they use it so you can avoid having the neighbors filch your ph4t p1p3.

Re:Would you have to card users? (1)

tighr (793277) | more than 9 years ago | (#13197220)

One of my most frequented bars is adjacent to an ISP in town. They offer free wi-fi to all their customers, which most likely only gets used during the school year or during the dead periods after lunch but before night. I have seen some guys in there playing counterstrike and drinking a few beers, having a good time.

Free wi-fi probably hasn't increased traffic to the bar, but I'm sure it has played a role in getting some customers to come and stay for a while.

The case against (5, Insightful)

HyperChicken (794660) | more than 9 years ago | (#13197092)

I do remember a coffee shop discontinuing free WiFi on the weekends due to people coming in, using the WiFi, hijacking tables, and not buying anything. [] 6 []

I'd suggest "free WiFi with purchase". Buy something and a WiFi access code is printed on your receipt good for an hour or two. The customers get what they want and the freeloaders can go else where.

Granted, it is a slight hassle for the paying customer, and I'm sure dedicated freeloaders will dig through trash to find half-used access codes (or eventually figure out how you're generating codes), but it's still better than smelly nerds hogging tables for head-to-head D&D play over the access point.

Re:The case against (2, Insightful)

Lemmy Caution (8378) | more than 9 years ago | (#13197115)

There's a local cafe that is implementing that very system due to a problem with freeloaders. Seems reasonable - 10 dollars of purchases gets you 4 hours of time.

They had an "honor system" before, but it was abused.

Re:The case against (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#13197250)

There's a local cafe that is implementing that very system due to a problem with freeloaders. Seems reasonable - 10 dollars of purchases

$10 - that's what, about half the price of a low-fat
  fraapacappamochahulazappahunkahunaaburninwhapacho oespressolatte with chocolate shavings, isn't it?

Re:The case against (2, Insightful)

garcia (6573) | more than 9 years ago | (#13197135)

Why would I go there when there are numerous other coffee shops that require nothing of the sort?

Less than a mile from my home is a Dunn Brothers Coffee shop and another mile from that is a Panera. Neither require a purchase to use their network but it's fairly rare to see anyone not at least having a coffee while they're there.

Open it up for all those that enter or suffer the consequences of those that can and do offer it free.

Re:The case against (1)

daeley (126313) | more than 9 years ago | (#13197202)

I'm not arguing for or against, but equally probable is that the freeloaders will move from the restrictive cafe over to the non-restrictive ones, thus cascading the problem.

Re:The case against (1)

garcia (6573) | more than 9 years ago | (#13197260)

Perhaps it's our area but I haven't seen much "freeloading" for WiFi. Within a mile of that Panera I can name 4 other places that offer free WiFi: Old Chicago, Buffalo Wild Wings, Starbucks, and Dunn Brothers Coffee. I also happen to know that within 2 miles you start hitting residential neighborhoods (including my own) which also offer plenty of free WiFi.

So perhaps, once the availability is there the "freeloaders" drop?

Re:The case against (2, Insightful)

Nugget (7382) | more than 9 years ago | (#13197282)

What exactly is the "consequence" which would have to be suffered through? The absence of people who aren't going to spend any money anyway?

Re:The case against (1)

rczik (254081) | more than 9 years ago | (#13197203)

Having helped to create one of the first Internet cafes (Cybersmith) way back in 1995, getting access with a purchase seems to me to be a sane and resonable approach.


Re:The case against (1)

RoadWarriorX (522317) | more than 9 years ago | (#13197221)

Hmmm. This sounds awfully familiar [] . I just can't put my finger on it....


Re:The case against (1)

HyperChicken (794660) | more than 9 years ago | (#13197275)

Why [] yes [] it [] does [] .

Re:The case against (1)

93 Escort Wagon (326346) | more than 9 years ago | (#13197233)

"Granted, it is a slight hassle for the paying customer, and I'm sure dedicated freeloaders will dig through trash to find half-used access codes (or eventually figure out how you're generating codes), but it's still better than smelly nerds hogging tables for head-to-head D&D play over the access point."

Given the relatively small number of people who would be using this service at a given time, I wouldn't think it'd be too big a deal to authenticate against a database back end to prevent misuse. The register could just generate the code (or have a cheap computer right there, all the employee does is hit a button), log it into a database containing two fields: the code, and when it expires. Then use that database to drive something like RADIUS for the access point authentication.

Free Wi-Fi? (2, Insightful)

DotNM (737979) | more than 9 years ago | (#13197094)

Wouldn't it be possible that people would come and use the free Wi-Fi instead of coming and paying to use the desktop computers?

Observations at a local Coffeeshop (3, Interesting)

bigwavejas (678602) | more than 9 years ago | (#13197095)

I have no idea about the legalities in question, but I can offer you some insight to my observations at a local Coffeeshop.

The owner initially set-up a "pay as you go" internet connection, where you could either use his computers, or he'd give you a temporary username/ password to access his wireless router. Initially, this worked well for him, as he was the first Coffeeshop in the area to offer internet access. As time went on and other Coffeeshop's started to offer "free" internet (to draw in people), I noticed the volume of people diminished. At that point he made the decision to offer "free" internet for those with wireless laptops, yet continued to charge if you opted to use his computers. I personally feel with all the free WiFi Access Points you're going to have a hard time finding someone who will pay.

One thing to keep in mind if you decide to offer "free" internet is you're going to get people who campout on their laptops and take up table space for hours at a time. Some people even stay there all damn day like it's their personal office space. This might lend itself to loss of business from patrons just wanting a quick cappuccino or dessert and having no seats available. I'd make sure to designate certain tables with time limits or as "No Internet." Good luck!

Re:Observations at a local Coffeeshop (2, Insightful)

Pantero Blanco (792776) | more than 9 years ago | (#13197188)

Instead of a solid time limit, you could just reserve the right to kick out people who haven't made a purchase in the last thirty/fourty minutes or so.

If I end up on the internet for an extended period of time at a coffeeshop/cafe, I generally make it a practice to keep buying drinks. It generally keeps the people running the place happy.

Re:Observations at a local Coffeeshop (2, Interesting)

dr_dank (472072) | more than 9 years ago | (#13197222)

One thing to keep in mind if you decide to offer "free" internet is you're going to get people who campout on their laptops and take up table space for hours at a time. Some people even stay there all damn day like it's their personal office space.

A valid concern, to be sure. If one goes as far as giving out temporary usernames/passwords with the purchase of items, you could combat this by having the logons expire after a certain period of time. That way, they'd have to keep buying to stay online (at least until they learn to hijack an open session by cloning the mac address).

Democrats for Defeat (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#13197096)

Death to America! Vote Hillary or John Kerry in 2008!

Loitering outside (1)

zhevek (147623) | more than 9 years ago | (#13197100)

Well, the prospective place of business would have more people loitering outside getting free wireless at least!

Resource Suckers (1)

Saeed al-Sahaf (665390) | more than 9 years ago | (#13197178)

This is a serious issue for businesses like coffee shops that have table space and depend on people actually purchasing stuff to survive. While there are exceptions, "Table squaters" take up valuble space but produce very limited income for the shop owner, and generally just "can't understand" why there is anything at all wrong with sucking up free resources without returning something like a purchase every so often. A single purchase of a cup of something does not entitle people to plant themselves at a table all day.

Another issue is that people who do this do not add anything to the attractivness of the business as a social gathering place.

free or not, any idea what his liabilities are? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#13197108)

I'm thinking about 2 sources of liabilities:
1) users.
2) his bandwidth provider

More expensive coffee? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#13197111)

Why should everybody pay for something a few use?

Re:More expensive coffee? (1)

Ingolfke (515826) | more than 9 years ago | (#13197267)

That's what prices are for. If you don't like the price, don't pay it. Businesses will learn very quickly if spreading the cost out across all of their products is better than charging those that use the service. In this case, I suspect the minor (if any?) increase in price per product doesn't result in a significant drop in the # of buyers to warrent charging outright for the service, and in fact may result in more buyers meaning that no increase in price is required.

Royalty? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#13197113)

"I argued about increased business and royalty" you mean to tell me that if I give out free wi-fi, the queen will show up?

Keen gear!

free pr0n = good (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#13197114)

porn arguement wins

Let them know the cons, too. (1)

Pantero Blanco (792776) | more than 9 years ago | (#13197116)

If you're going to try to convince someone to offer free WiFi, make sure they know that they might be liable for things customers use it for if they don't take the proper steps beforehand.

Here's my (evil) argument (3, Insightful)

demonic-halo (652519) | more than 9 years ago | (#13197117)

You can setup a proxy server which will intercept http: traffic and insert ad banners into the web pages it serves.

Re:Here's my (evil) argument (1)

fbartho (840012) | more than 9 years ago | (#13197248)

have a smarter proxy server that will just replace every single piece of normal advertising with your own ads... :) that way the ads look normal on the page.

No Case. (1)

jellomizer (103300) | more than 9 years ago | (#13197118)

Wi-Fi and Coffee shops don't always mix. Sure it works for big chains like starbucks. But sometimes people want to get coffee and get away from work for a while. Also there is the issue of people just sitting their and no drinking coffee and just working. So if you are going to have a coffee shop with Wi-Fi you probably need an informal so many drinks an hour or please get out. Also if people come for the Wi-Fi if the connection goes down. The guy looses buisness.

My Wife (3, Funny)

hexed_2050 (841538) | more than 9 years ago | (#13197120)

I'd get my wife to argue with him. Somehow she won the arguement to delete WoW from my hd.

Re:My Wife (1)

tehwebguy (860335) | more than 9 years ago | (#13197151)


common carrier? (4, Insightful)

MasterD (18638) | more than 9 years ago | (#13197121)

Is a coffee shop going to be held accountable if somebody sells drugs using the public phone next to the bathroom? Or discusses an illegal business deal at of their tables? Of course not, so why should they be help responsible for what people do over their Internet connection?

Re:common carrier? (1)

Evil Adrian (253301) | more than 9 years ago | (#13197200)

The question is whether or not you are doing something you know is dangerous... nobody can cause a lot of damage from a public phone. A lot of damage can be caused by leaving a loaded gun lying around out in the open. An open Internet connection is somewhere between these two.

Re:common carrier? (4, Insightful)

jellomizer (103300) | more than 9 years ago | (#13197212)

Because computer are new and strange. Normal laws do not apply. Because it is with those magical computers that are thinking brains. Sience you own the thinking brain and it does illegal stuff thereforth you are responcible.

Re:common carrier? (1)

Rude Turnip (49495) | more than 9 years ago | (#13197237)

There is probably tons of legal precedent wrt a public telephone and who is liable for what happens. As much as using the internet is an incremental technological step from using the telephone to us, it is a gigantic leap in the legal sense.

Re:common carrier? (1)

bcattwoo (737354) | more than 9 years ago | (#13197254)

Because here in lawsuit-happy America if some kid's parents found out he was looking at porn at the coffee shop they might sue the coffee shop, it's ISP, the maker of the computer, and the provider of the coffee beans. They would probably manage to get a settlement out of at least one of them too.

Incresed buisnes outways the cost (4, Informative)

Ossus_10 (844890) | more than 9 years ago | (#13197124)

I have a friend who runs a bagel shop (coffee, sandwiches, bagels, etc...). He is moving to a larger location in order to provide free WiFi. The reason hes moving is because he experimented with WiFi before, and his old building was not big enough to accommodate all the extra buisness he recived when providing free WiFi. That to me sounds like a huge reason to provide free WiFi over paid. Ossus

It's a losing proposition (2, Insightful)

Sarojin (446404) | more than 9 years ago | (#13197126)

unless you really enforce that people buy drinks while they're there. It may not be so bad once WiFi is ubiquitous, but as it is, frugal people (ie people that won't want to pay for drinks) will flock to wherever has it.

1st (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#13197130)


Panera Bread Does (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#13197136)

Panera Bread offers free WiFi. []

They seem to be doing fine. The big companies like the RIAA and MPAA like to go after the little guy who cannot defend himself in court because of the costs. If they ever challenged a company that can defend itself they might lose.

My town (0, Offtopic)

Sheepdot (211478) | more than 9 years ago | (#13197138)

In my town, we have free Wifi at Panera Bread and about 5 crappy little cafes.

How about instead of Wifi you just get up and go ask her out instead of watching her and pretending she's hotibunni27 on your IM?

Non paying users. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#13197139)

I think one of the biggest problems would be people who take up space just to use the free internet, but don't actualy buy anything.

Just let him try it (1)

chuck (477) | more than 9 years ago | (#13197141)

It sounds like you want to use logic to win an argument. In my time on this planet, I've found that never works. You can try your hardest, then just let him do it his own way. Once he finds that customers are turned off by being treated like a criminal, he'll do it the Panera way.

free beer (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#13197142)

Charge for the Wi-Fi and make the beer free.

why not a token system (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#13197143)

you buy a cup of coffee, and on your receipt is a number which allows you to login to wifi for 8 hours or something like that. the number is some sort of hash based on time/date (among other things) so it's not prone to abuse

1st Post (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#13197146)

1st Post!

charging != no liability (2, Insightful)

Myko (11551) | more than 9 years ago | (#13197150)

Charging would not alleviate any liability that you mention, and would actually add more. By receiving money, they now have a vested interest in the actions of the customers and are more responsible than if it were free.

First Comment (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#13197152)

suck it, slashdot boys

Arguments Against (4, Insightful)

Ieshan (409693) | more than 9 years ago | (#13197153)

While it's practically painless to set up these days, a big argument against WiFi in any business is the type of client you attract.

Remember that you're likely to attract businessy types too busy to do anything but work during lunch, or student/cheap types too cheap to pay for highspeed access themselves (and therefore, unlikely to spend $30 a month on coffee). Is this really the atmosphere you want in your business?

It also depends what type of netcafe you're opening. There are netcafes primarily for gaming, and those primarily for getting a cup of coffee while surfing the net. I've worked in one where people are basically gaming straight up, and the atmosphere is radically different than the local coffee shop.

If you want a social, living coffeeshop, I'd say cut off the internet access. People go to a coffeeshop to relax with friends, listen to jazz, or curl up in a comfy chair with a big book. As much of a netaholic as I am, there has to be a balance somewhere.

Re:Arguments Against (1)

lowe0 (136140) | more than 9 years ago | (#13197251)

It's a shame that these places can't be partitioned somewhat, so that you can gravitate towards areas that are more conducive to out-of-office work, casual socialization, tabletop gaming, or quiet reading. Don't wall them off up to the ceiling, mind you, but just array the areas around the coffee bar in the center, and find some clever way of delineating space.

Then again, real estate isn't free. But it'd be pretty cool.

Freeloaders (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#13197158)

My concern is how to handle the freeloaders who spend 6 hours in your shop using your internet, yet only paying for one cup of coffee.

Free WiFi = More Customers (1)

americamatrix (658742) | more than 9 years ago | (#13197160)

I like the idea of free WiFi. Having to pay for WiFi may discouage some customers from even going into the cafe. As was stated in the comment, raising the price of items in the store a few cents to pay for the initial cost isnt a bad idea. The more customers that go into the store...the more likely they will be to buy something...

Against (1)

Karma_fucker_sucker (898393) | more than 9 years ago | (#13197163)

There's a cafe like this around where I live. I was talking to one of the employees and she told me that a lot of people who come in are sales people or some other road warrior type who just order one coffee, stay for hours and just use up bandwidth.

The place is always filled with people, but I've noticed that very few of them have had anything other than a drink. I think Starbucks, Borders, etc., use T-Mobile or some other pay service for that reason.

Re:Against (1)

wmelnick (411371) | more than 9 years ago | (#13197268)

The problem with this argument is that these same salespeople/road warriors are going to sign up for the $40 per month unlimited use account, and then you really have no recourse against them when they sit doen and hog the table for hours. If you provide truly free internet access, put up a sign that says "Wifi is for paying customers only. Limit 60 minutes with food/beverage purchase." You may not get rid of all of the freeloaders, but most would pay attention to something like that.

Hrmm. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#13197164)

Step 1: Provide free WiFi.
Step 2: ...
Step 3: Profit!

Outsource the Wifi (1)

ramannoodle (683009) | more than 9 years ago | (#13197166)

Isn't that what outsourcing the Wifi is for? That way the outsourced company can handle the liability issue, gets paid by the business, the business can offer for free, and both reap the benefits.

hmmm (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#13197167)

Okay, I think this betrays a lack of understanding about business - people are in business to make money - not provide you with something for free.

Places that have offered free WiFi have had people leeching it all day and not buying a thing - its why cafes don't do it anymore.

$6-$10/hr? (3, Interesting)

bill_mcgonigle (4333) | more than 9 years ago | (#13197168)

What? Marriot doesn't even get away with prices like that. There's a coffee shop down the street that's going to profit from his pricing scheme...

If he's concerned with freeloaders, have the cash register print out a code on the receipt that you can enter into a nocat captive portal to authenticate against a RADIUS server. Give them an hour for each purchase, for instance. Tie the code to single MAC address, etc.

But consider the cost of integrating your cash register, running the server, dealing with the tech support, etc. vs. the cost of sticking a WRT54G on a wire and letting a few freeloaders on the 'net.

Re:$6-$10/hr? (1)

Pantero Blanco (792776) | more than 9 years ago | (#13197229)

Yeah, if you're going to charge for access, two or two fifty an hour makes more sense, especially if (like most coffeeshops I've seen) your clientele is composed largely of college students who probably get paid about that much an hour at work.

How come all the laptops get to have all the fun (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#13197169)

btw whats the name of the cyber cafe? hmmm makes me want park my car infront of your cyber cafe with my wireless enabled desktop on a power inverter ;)

re: WI FI and Coffee Shops (1)

SR71Blackbird (903676) | more than 9 years ago | (#13197173)

Im in still in High School and during the lasts 2 weeks of the semester I pratically lived at starbuchs. I was very suprised that they did not have free internet and it upset me very much, I love the idea of a coffee shop with free internet, even if it is added into the price of the coffee :)

Most hotels have an EULA (1)

georgeha (43752) | more than 9 years ago | (#13197177)

to access their WiFi you have to click on a EULA, which probably has the usual legal crap about copyrighted material.

Sounds like a start.

Excellent example, but a double-edged sword... (3, Interesting)

Shoten (260439) | more than 9 years ago | (#13197179)

In the Adams Morgan neighborhood of DC, there's a coffee shop called "Tryst" (I like them, so I won't post a link here. Poor guys would get slashdotted into oblivion!) that has free wifi. Now, Adams Morgan is NOT a cheap place to have a business, and Tryst is simply huge. The place is full of sofas, loveseats and easy chairs...not a single mass-produced cafe chair can be found in the place, in all truth, so it actually has a relatively low density as far as customers per square foot. They do solid business, though, because they are reknowned as a great place for students, consultants, etc. to work. Go in there at night, and it's social. But go there during the middle of the day, and it's STILL busy, and looking like a forest of laptops. The people take advantage of the free wifi, and they buy coffee, beer, and food at the same time. I used to live mere blocks from them, and actually wrote most of my book in some of those comfortable chairs while racking up a tab consisting of caffeine and beer in alternating amounts. The place has this incredible buzz to it that makes it perfect to work in, and this in turn is the key to their being busy all day long, every day.

There's a flipside to this, though. It's no secret that in some cases, coffee shops that offer free wifi end up with nothing more than wifi freeloaders, who go in, power up and sit down to work without ordering a thing. I honestly don't know how the flip comes about, but Tryst doesn't do anything to require that people purchase, it just takes care of itself. Part of it could be the quality of their food and drink...their coffee is just unbelievable. It's Seattle-good, to put it as a couple of my friends from there did.

increased business and royalty? (1)

jginspace (678908) | more than 9 years ago | (#13197182)

increased business and royalty

Nah ... don't want them ... you'd have a never-ending smell of wet paint around the place.

Simple (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#13197183)

It costs more to charge for wifi than wifi is worth.

Bringing in customers (1)

CuratorTom (181103) | more than 9 years ago | (#13197184)

I recently ate at a Country Kitchen in order to get free WiFi. That's right, a Country Kitchen. Obviously, free WiFi brings in customers.

It's more profitable to make it free (1)

monopole (44023) | more than 9 years ago | (#13197191)

A post a while back in boing boing ( expensiv.html [] )
noted that the added cost of administering and accounting for a pay wifi site ($30) versus a free site ($6) made the profit very difficult. In comparison a free site was cheap enough to easily make a net profit from the increased traffic it drew.

So simply show then the money.

WIFI ruins coffee shops (1)

samuel4242 (630369) | more than 9 years ago | (#13197194)

I hate to rain on the free parade. Lord knows I've used free wifi a lot. I even leave my home access point open to help anyone in the neighborhood. But I think free wifi has ruined my favorite coffee shop. It turned everyone into a bunch of droids with their eyes glued to the screen. The place is like a branch office for telecommuters, not a hip, fun place to relax. And I can see why the management is a bit peeved. Many folks don't consume much more than one cup of coffee every few hours. (And it's a good thing too. People would be overweight and overcaffeinated.) I would rather have a place with reasonable prices for food and beverage. We don't need that many calories in the day. It's silly to tie calorie/caffeine consumption to WiFi. Keep the world Orthogonal!!!

Cafe? How about a pub! (1)

KhaymanUCSD (801306) | more than 9 years ago | (#13197197)

O'Briens Pub in San Diego []

They have a great beer selection and the food is pretty good too. That brings in most of the customers. I and a few friends have often decided that we were going to "work" from there and used the free wi-fi and our VPN connections. I can guarantee you that Tom's (the owner) investment has more than paid for itself.

If you're in the San Diego area you should stop in.

Advertising (1)

Marxist Hacker 42 (638312) | more than 9 years ago | (#13197205)

Free Wifi, with paid computer rentals, is advertising for a restaurant or hotel or other business. It should be looked upon as such.

Personal Experience (1)

demon_jr808 (896815) | more than 9 years ago | (#13197209)

I work in a computer store that offers free Wi-Fi along with free Internet Access on our demo computers. In my opinion, what end up with is increased traffic, but mainly for the sole purpose of taking advantage of the free internet access. In terms of Wi-Fi, most people just sit outside our store to use it, without even stepping inside once. In my opinion, the amount of traffic your store will have will increase dramatically, but in terms of actually sales, there will probably not be much increase. In fact, the increased traffic may even be a detriment. The more people in the store, the less likely someone will be able to be serviced or helped or comfortable. If the store is filled up with people who are just there for the free Internet Access, it will be that much harder for real customers to be helped or make purchases.

Well (1)

UserChrisCanter4 (464072) | more than 9 years ago | (#13197218)

He's running an internet café, so his principle business is presumably selling computer usage. This is not a coffee shop where the money is made in keeping a steady stream of customers around to pay $3/cup.

I assume this guy is probably planning to sell snacks/drinks/coffee to bolster his bottom line, but let's not forget that his business is not a coffee shop. Approaching this like Panera Bread or even the local mom and pop coffee place isn't necessarily the most intelligent way to go.

Additionally, I sincerely hope this guy isn't trying to setup a true internet café in the US, as I've only seen a few that were successful. Unless you're in a high-traffic area of a major tourist locale, I've only seen gaming centers and the like last longer than a year or so. Don't take that as gospel truth or anything, it's just been my (admittedly limited) experience.

Can the cost be recovered? Sure, that's not tough at all, and most people don't notice the difference between a $1.29 or $1.59 fountain drink. Will it drive business, though? That's the real question: should he give away wi-fi when his core business is selling internet access (and a computer with which to use it). Wouldn't a reduced rate be more feasible?

who is liable ? (1)

Atreide (16473) | more than 9 years ago | (#13197227)

If you come at my cafe and hack pentagon from it, who will be charged ?
Will I be able to have a secure system that prevents hacking of my system ? Will I know how to log and protect my logs to cover myself in case someone sue me ?

Bidwell & Elmwood Buffalo NY (1)

cthulhuology (746986) | more than 9 years ago | (#13197236)

Case in point. I am here almost every day of the week. I spend around $500 a month here. I work from the cafe because of their wireless. If they didn't have it, I wouldn' be here blowing $15 a day on food and drinks. $6000 a year at the cafe. Office away from home. Works for me.

Joshua Cup (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#13197239)

2 of them here in Macon, GA. Both of them have had free Wi-fi for awhile. They often get lots of students

Free WiFi (1)

burtdub (903121) | more than 9 years ago | (#13197247)

The kickbacks they could get from the mob for leaving the WiFi network unencrypted would easily offset the startup costs.

Liability is a major concern (1, Interesting)

realmolo (574068) | more than 9 years ago | (#13197256)

If one of the wireless users is sharing movies and crap, there is a distinct possibility that the MPAA will notify the ISP. The ISP is then legally required to either get rid of the file from the user's machine, or *shut off* that user. Which means the coffee shops access will be killed by the ISP.

Major hassle. Not to mention that the coffee shop will basically be an ISP. There will be users screwing the local network up with viruses, users who can't figure out how to get on and want help...all of which requires somebody who knows the tech side to keep things running well.

Not worth the trouble. AT ALL.

Time limited accounts (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#13197263)

A friend of mine opened a small coffee shop here in town and for every cup of coffee you get 1/2 hour of access for free. On the reciept there is an access code for the account created for your cup of coffee, that expires after a half hour. You can extend that time by buying another cup of coffee and getting more credit, or purchasing more time.

The biggest problem he found when he first installed his system was squaters. People who bought one cup of coffee and sat there for an hour or more without purchasing anything more. It made is table space really inefficient and cut into his profits very noticably. Maybe it won't be a problem for a shop that doesn't fill completely up often, but volume is the name of the game anything that hurts volume is bad.

Can i setup a captive portal easily ? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#13197269)

we have free wiFi but we have a lot of freeloaders (students) at the weekend who buy nothing (or 1 coffee per table of 5)

so to stop this are there any easy (free/simple) software we can run (Win2k/XP/*nix:we are _not_ linux gurus) that can give access to patrons for determined times (say 2 hours with purchase of a coffee, buy another cofee and access is restored from the till) to stop the majority of freeloaders sucking our bandwidth
as always with free things its the minority or spoil and absue it for the majority and we wouldnt want to discontinue it because of jerks


James H
Orange Cafe
Croydon, UK

People will not pay for it. Period. (1)

cmefford (810011) | more than 9 years ago | (#13197273)

There isn't much more to add. If he thinks he can charge, he's flat out wrong.

As to the liability, use a redirect gateway, with an end user agreement click through.

You can be sued for anything, the eua goes a good distance to showing due diligence.

Off the top of my head (1)

Locke2005 (849178) | more than 9 years ago | (#13197281)

Argument against: people outside the cafe can probably access the free WiFi as well

Argument for: The control systems and maintenance required to make sure people are paying for their WiFi connection probably cost more than any additional revenue you can get from it. I know if I had a laptop, I'd keep looking until I found a place with open access, just to avoid the hassle.

World Cup (1)

soft_guy (534437) | more than 9 years ago | (#13197283)

World Cup in Portland has free WiFi. The last time I checked, they were doing OK. They have two locations (that I know of). Both are downtown. One of a coffee shop and the other is the coffee shop inside Powell's main downtown location.

Free, Almost Free, Pay Per Drink, and Pay Big Time (1)

WillAffleckUW (858324) | more than 9 years ago | (#13197285)

The choices aren't just free or not free.

The real choice is:

Free - this works best for a destination place, where you don't have competitors within easy range, as people will tend to congregate where the signal is strongest, and people with WiFi laptops and Blackberries and such tend to be willing to spend money where they hang out.

Almost Free - secure with a password that changes that you get when you shop there, or with a subscription you renew periodically. Then you can nurse a drink along or you can not, but it's less of a hassle to maintain. This works where you have many competitors at close range with equal signal strength, and you just change it once a week or so - so the WiFi for free guys will either ask their friend for the password or buy a drink once in a while, but the overhead is low. Still a nuisance tho. Gathering places should be easy to get to, which is why many cafes are near parks and water/green places. Also works for bookstores - you get a quarterly card or annual card as a member and everyone has the same password but it's on the card so easy to maintain.

Pay Per Drink - works for terminals but such a hassle for WiFi laptops that people will get angry at you and go buy drinks at your competitor.

Pay Big Time - hourly charges, secure networks, where you offer a WiFi provider portal at your site but they basically buy service from them - good for things like Starbucks where all the chain stores have the same exact setup and same provider, but still a pain and the price upsets people who would otherwise hang out and drink your coffee drinks that cost too much.

Free works best, IMHO. But that's cause I live near three places that provide it, so I don't pay for WiFi at home (have DSL and Cablemodem but rarely use them ...). I try to buy drinks at the places that give it, and recommend them to friends tho, so I guess it does work in growing their customer base. And I am a customer, so it's not a total loss.

simple (1)

aggieben (620937) | more than 9 years ago | (#13197288)

My argument would be simple:

Why make it free when 90% of people would pay $1/day for it?

Maybe if you have regulars, you could offer discounts, like $0.25/day, but the idea here is just like with music downloads: people will pay for it, just not a lot.

Free access (1)

midifarm (666278) | more than 9 years ago | (#13197289)

I make it a point to only frequent shops that provide free net access as opposed to places that are "T-Mobile" hotspots ($30/month). It's worth it to me.


Retailer Mentality (1)

mpapet (761907) | more than 9 years ago | (#13197293)

In this case, the retailer thinks he's going to do well reselling internet access. Giving it away for free doesn't really fit into his business plan.

I'm guessing the guy isn't technically savvy either if you had to explain the whole wireless thing to him.

Other Retailers:
The average coffee retailer may not be so sophisticated as to understand loss-leader pricing. Loss-leading is a financial disaster if it isn't executed well. This might lead to the camping-out characters.

It seems simple to most ./'s. Set up cable/dsl account, connect wireless access point and be on your way. But it's a black art to many, especially someone focused on selling coffee.

OT Panera
We have a Panera and a Starbucks near us. If I'm not mistaken, you still pay for access at starbucks and that place has people with laptops in it all the time. Meanwhile panera has a couple of laptop users now and again, but is otherwise busy with people buying food. That's what Panera had in mind and I'd like to know how they execute that to keep it that way.

I'm (1)

mangus_angus (873781) | more than 9 years ago | (#13197298)

sitting outside of a wifi cafe right now....accross the street that is ;)
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