Blog Post

Google goes big with free Wi-Fi campaign

Stay on Top of Enterprise Technology Trends

Get updates impacting your industry from our GigaOm Research Community
Join the Community!

Google(s goog) is getting more aggressive when it comes to using public Wi-Fi as a promotional tool. It’s targeting another 4,000 hotspots around the country with free access through a new deal with Boingo(s wifi).

Google is buying sponsorship on Boingo’s managed network, allowing the free access to anyone after they first view an initial Google Play splash screen. But there’s a difference between this one and previous promotions. The campaign only targets laptop and Android users so if you connect to the network with an iPhone, iPad(s aapl) or Windows Phone(s msft) device, you will wind up paying the hotspot owner’s normal rates.

Last month, Google and Boingo announced they were expanding their free-Wi-Fi trial from New York to malls around the country, but today’s addition includes hotels, restaurants, shopping centers and even 15 major airports. “This kind of widespread sponsorship buy is remarkable,” said Sebastian Tonkin, former CEO of Cloud Nine Media who joined Boingo last month when the hotspot operator bought his company. While there have been several companies experimenting with sponsorship models at individual airports or at other locales, no one has really yet launched a nationwide campaign like Google, he said.

Tonkin said both hotspot owners and advertisers are intrigued by these new sponsorship models as they provide much higher per-ad fees for the former, and they deliver a captive audience for the latter. Rather than deliver ads through browser pop-ups customers can easily ignore, sponsored ads dominate the login screen when a customer first connects the network, Tonkin said.

Wi-Fi image courtesy of Flickr user suttonhoo

12 Responses to “Google goes big with free Wi-Fi campaign”

  1. I was an early user of Google. Now, I avoid it as it gathers all users information, keeps it, shares it with federal agencies without a warrant, and work far too closely with Big Brother. The pusher always makes the first one free.

  2. Tsahi Levent-Levi

    This is a short-lived move and its main reason is to check out if free WiFi is sustainable for Google (my guess is that it isn’t). And it gives Google some nice publicity – from the move itself and less from the WiFi hot spots.

    In the long run, I don’t see Google as a WiFi provider. There are other players in this game such as transportation companies and city councils on top of the regular Telcos and iPass/Boingo companies. It will be interesting to see how this one ends.
    Here’s the list of those I view as the main players in the WiFi games:

    • Kevin Fitchard

      Hi Tsahi, I agree. Google is just a sponsor so it’s really the Wi-Fi equivalent of having your logo on a NASCAR vehicle. It’s not that Google wouldn’t invest in infrastructure (Google Fiber), but why bother if so many others have already made the investment.

  3. This is stupid, they should actually finish what they started in their own town of Mountain View before they go to New York. And no Apple products allowed? Sounds like another Crashing Google Wave.

  4. I don’t doubt that if the roles were reversed Apple wouldn’t use the opportunity to promote their iTunes store? What’s wrong with Google wanting to promote their play store? At the end of the day it would be a targeted marketing campaign, and there is nothing stopping Apple running an iOS option alongside the promotion, should they adopt NFC

  5. Kevin Fitchard

    I don’t think Google’s aim is something so nefarious as denying access to Apple users. I think it’s just more targeted marketing. The goal of the sponsorship is to drive people to the Google Play store so people will download and purchase content and apps. Google Play just isn’t supported on iOS and other non-Android smartphone platforms, though you can use it on laptops, which explains why Macs and PCs get access to the promotion.

    I didn’t go into the detail in the post. But it’s not necessarily the case that all iPhones would always be denied free access to these hotspots. Boingo and Cloud 9 sell sponsorship inventory to other advertisers (though Google appears to be by far the biggest), so if a particular hotspot location has an alternate sponsor or some other hybrid ad-paid option, iPhone owners maybe able to access those networks for free.

  6. Dave Wright

    Wow, this is a very interesting move by Google. We’ve been talking a lot about this shift to ad-supported Public Wi-Fi here at the Wi-Fi World Summit this week.

    Wondering if they are excluding MacOS devices as well.

  7. This would be a fantastic opportunity to make use of NFC tags to enable users to connect to the hotspot. Tapit are leading the way by delivering compelling marketing campaigns using NFC, giving the user a simple yet magical experience.

      • Nick, if Tapit were delivering the marketing campaign, there would be no need for that. There would be clear visual aids indicating the facility at entry points a) making it known that free WiFi was available and b) by having a tapping point, you could connect simply by tapping rather than go through your handset settings menu. SIMPLE