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Summary:

Coffee shops with free wifi are the web workers’ digital oases, allowing us to flit from coffee to cake, sucking down bits and bites. For those without a home office, or access to a coworking community, such locations can quickly become our nomadic offices. So with […]

Coffee shops with free wifi are the web workers’ digital oases, allowing us to flit from coffee to cake, sucking down bits and bites. For those without a home office, or access to a coworking community, such locations can quickly become our nomadic offices.

So with this in mind, it’s great to hear the that last week, the UK’s Pret a Manger launched free wifi access in around 90% of its stores. ‘Pret‘ is well known for its ethical business practices and healthy, freshly made food, so it makes for a nice alternative to the usual Starbucks hourly charge (as much as £5/hour!) or the unappealing McDonalds environment.

Curiously the company isn’t tying use of wifi to purchases within its stores or to a timed usage limit, noting that in trials at larger outlets customers tended not to take advantage of those facts.

Some analysts are predicting that, with the proliferation of cheap pay monthly and pay-as-you-go 3G mobile broadband options throughout the UK (as little as £10/month for HSDPA tarriffs), locations with paid wifi access will likely tend towards free access, making revenue from other sources.

Pret executives have publically noted that the cost to their business is minimal – roughly £80k to setup nationally & £20k/month to operate – but the value to their 1.5m weekly customers is immeasurable. For other wifi location owners, it’s entirely possible free access could be tied to store purchases – at Cafe Ollo in Huddersfield, each purchase is accompanied by a 1-hour code issued as a WEP key for the cafe’s wifi network.

As the UK has seen the failure of a number of municipal wifi projects (and FON!), pressure from 3G and creative revenue streams may mean that free public wifi will be an increasingly available public good.

Oh, and as if Pret needed further geek credibility, the company has ‘open sourced’ its most popular recipes!

(Image courtesy of Jon In 60 Seconds)

By Imran Ali

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  1. This is great news to those that (like myself) regularly use cafe’s as informal business meeting locations but balk at the cost of paying for an hours Wifi access.

    Why it’s taken this long for someone like Pret to get on board with free Wifi is beyond me. Like you’ve said in your article, the value to the customer is immeasurable. Personally, I would make a point of using the cafe that offers free Wifi over it’s paid-for rivals.

    Sadly there’s no-where yet in Peterborough so I’ve invested in a USB broadband modem for the time being. Maybe the likes of Starbucks and Cafe Nero will follow Pret’s example soon!

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  2. Awesome. I often buy Pret’s sandwiches in London. Free wifi makes my lunch even better.

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  3. Hey Imran

    Thanks for using my Scroobl image in your write up and thanks for attributing it properly!

    Feel free to use any of my images or if you need one done for a specific post, let me know in advance and I will come up with something

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  4. [...] December we reported that the U.K.’s Pret a Manger chain was launching free WiFi access — now it seems they’re set to be joined by Starbucks, at just over 500 locations [...]

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