All You Can Surf UK: Pret A Manger Offers Free Wifi

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)

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