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Boingo offers ads-for-access for iPhone, iPod touch users in 28 airports: If you're traveling in the US, Canada, or the UK through one of the 28 airports operated by Boingo's Concourse division, you can trade 15 seconds of your life for 15 minutes of free Wi-Fi. The company has tested this previously, and has now rolled the deal out.
The service is enabled by JiWire, which has gradually transitioned itself from a site that developed a hotspot directory supplemented by editorial coverage and how-to's on wireless data, to one that's now hotspot directory plus hotspot advertising. The transition is interesting, as it reflects what I've seen on Wi-Fi Networking News: Wi-Fi is easier to use, as is cell data; costs for equipment is lower or you don't need to make a choice about equipment; and usage is up so far at hotspots that there's an audience there for commercial-based access.
MetroFi has famously declared free access to metro-scale services paid for by advertising to be unworkable; that may be so, given that they were the biggest proponent of it for a few years, and no other company followed them into that approach. However, metro-scale ad-supported Wi-Fi, in which residential and roaming users alike looked at banners and commercials in exchange for servcie is a far cry from the focused hotspot advertising market.
Hotspot ads involve a very open exchange between surfer and service, and JiWire pushes the watch-for-access model quite heavily. What's saving a few bucks worth to you? 15 seconds? 30 seconds? If so, we have a deal for you, they say, that also works for the advertiser and the service provider (and JiWire). It's not subtle; you have to watch the ad to gain access. But it seems like a reasonable exchange, with two hours' access up to a full day running $4 to $12 in the U.S. at paid locations. (Of course, I subscribe to Boingo Wireless's roaming service now, so I can bypass the ads in favor of paying $22 per month for unlimited usage, too. That's part of that tradeoff.)
(Disclosure: I own a very small number of share in JiWire as part of my early working relationship with them.)
JiWire and its ad network will provide free access for Apple iPhone and iPod touch users to select hotspots, including airports and hotels: The program requires that you view an ad to connect for free. It's a very interesting idea, because getting on to a Wi-Fi hotspot, despite the full-featured browser in both mobile devices, is somewhat frustrating even for free networks that require a log in. JiWire's program not only offers free service, but bypasses hassle, too. JiWire expects to expand the program over time, but it currently includes most major airports.
Apple makes its big yearly announcements today at the Macworld Expo, which I'm attending. One of the near-term developments--perhaps showcased today--is the addition of third-party software development on the iPhone and iPod touch. I've been hoping for a Wi-Fi connection manager, a la Devicescape (which has a client that works on mildly hacked iPhones). The JiWire deal could obviate my need for a client, as I'll look at an ad to get free service.
(Disclosure: I own a very small number of shares in JiWire for work performed in its early years.)
Hotspot directory JiWire is moving further into the hotspot advertising space: CEO Kevin McKenzie told ComputerWorld that its advertisers will pay $35 to $150 CPM (cost per thousand impressions), which is far above the rates typically charged on Web sites without extremely narrow targeting. (I should know.) McKenzie said that JiWire now has relationships with 50 large firms in the U.S. Today's deal with Microsoft's MSN portal is intended to extend that service's reach, something that Microsoft has been working on heavily to counter Google and Yahoo.
Microsoft will run ads on Portland, Ore.'s MetroFi network, and in Oakland County, Mich., which is building a 900 sq mi network that has run into many snags related to utility pole access. Still, it will pass 1.2m people when completed. (Disclosure: I have a very tiny financial interest in JiWire.)
The Cloud can't even give away its City of London Wi-Fi: The network covering London's business district, "The Square Mile," attracted 6,000 registered users in the first month, out of a working and visiting population of 350,000. There's a kind of mismatch. There aren't that many devices for which mobile Wi-Fi is useful yet. People come to the City to work, and thus have Wi-Fi at work. Those who roam the area probably already carry 3G smartphones.
Wi-Fi Planet rounds up the several delayed or troubled Wi-Fi projects covering cities: They review Aurora, Ill.; Wireless Silicon Valley; and Toledo, Ohio. More specifics below from local articles.
Toledo, Ohio, may agree to buy $2.2m in services from MetroFi in exchange for network: The city says they will divert between $225,000 and $325,000 in current costs (roughly $1.5m assuming no increases in current service costs) from existing expenses to the new network. The article says that revenue from advertising would offset the city's expenses, but that doesn't sound like MetroFi's model. I have a query into the company for clarification. The local paper is owned by a firm that also made an offer to build Toledo's network, but the city said their proposal didn't meet the mark as "it was a set of ideas," said the city's IT/telecom director. Update: I confirmed with MetroFi that the paper is reporting the deal inaccurately. The $2.16m would be for contracted services, and revenue MetroFi receives would not apply towards that.
Aurora, Ill., continues to find utility poles standing in network's way: Local paper reports that the city's CTO says that after a year of talks between MetroFi and ComEd, there's still no agreement in place. MetroFi discovered it would need to use many more poles than originally expected.
JiWire facilitates free hotspot access via commercials that must be viewed in their entirety: The idea is that the Ultramercial, the brainchild of the eponymous company, has a high enough value to advertisers because a hotspot visitor is forced to view the ad before being given access. While JiWire, a company I own a very tiny piece of, isn't disclosing the ad rates it obtains from companies using this commercial-for-free-service format, they did note a 7-percent clickthrough rate versus industry averages of 1 percent for all online advertising.
I can't provide more information than is available publicly, but I can note that it's relatively easy to look at what a hotspot operator might obtain through a roaming agreement or as their net cost for pay-as-you-go and consider whether this format might deliver more users and thus incremental revenue that make advertising the right mix.
This form of advertising is somewhat different than the 1-inch advertising bar used by MetroFi to fund its cost-free service in that the expectation with an Ultramercial is that someone is giving up a small piece of their time in exchange for a high-value item. The ad bar used by MetroFi, as one example, is background advertising that's continuous, and thus has a much lower value relative to its exposure.
Don't prejudge them by the word hype in their name: Hypewifi has yet another model of providing users with free Wi-Fi through support from advertising. In their model, a user must answer a few demographic questions which are tied to their profile in order to surf. These demographic questions allow more closely targeted advertising, they say, without exposing a particular user's details. Advertisers can choose to only target those whose profile matches their needs extremely closely.
This kind of approach requires a very high volume of users as qualifying users because winnowing down all users to find just the reasonable targets of ads means that an advertising inventory can't be served uniformly. Sell a million ad impressions and you see just 50,000 qualified users come through for a few pages each, and you've got a lot of unsold inventory. (You could have low-rate salvage ads displaying for "unqualified" users; this is why some sites seem littered with T-shirt ads, for instance. Although let me not mock the billions spent each year on message T-shirts.)
Hypewifi looks for locations where users would want free Wi-Fi and where professionals that meet the demographic that they want to offer to advertisers would congregate. The company says that they have 1,000 registered users so far with a soft launch.
The firm has Toshiba and Sony among initial advertisers, MetroFi among initial operators: JiWire, with which I have a long-standing relationship, has extended its advertising sales from its own highly trafficked Web site--which features a worldwide hotspot directory and articles on using Wi-Fi and cell technology--to hotspot operators. JiWire has announced that nine operators will be part of the first rollout of their advertising service, although they only list MetroFi.
MetroFi is one of the three significant national metro-scale wireless infrastructure builders, the other two being MobilePro and EarthLink, judging by contracts signed or in process. Only MetroFi maintains that they can run networks profitably by offering free, advertising-supported accounts. EarthLink and MobilePro have specifically dismissed that possibility.
I tried to find other active hotspot-oriented advertising networks and came up empty. While there are firms that offer the technology to make hotspot advertising work--such as PerfTech, which counts ad serving technology (but not sales) among a variety of services they offer, and the equally diversified Front Porch--other companies handle the ad sales. And there are vertical-industry targeted ad networks that handle, for instance, car dealerships that have hotspots.
But JiWire's entry might provide validation for some of the model, not because JiWire is the be-all, end-all, but rather because JiWire has a relationship of some kind of virtually every hotspot operator in the world, and has three years' experience in selling advertisers and ad agencies on targeted ads on Wi-Fi topics. We'll see how it plays out.
I'm particularly interested in getting JiWire's rate card, so that we could know what rates they're charging--which could help prove or disprove MetroFi's long-term plan, too.
[Disclosure: I hold shares and options in JiWire, and have an ongoing editorial relationship with them. I have no obligation to write about the firm, nor to write positively about them.]