I came out of a meeting today near Oxford St in London, and like many other business travellers before me with time to spare before the next meeting, headed in search of somewhere to setup camp with Free WiFi.

I ended up in Starbucks as many will have done in the knowledge there is WiFi. I settled down with my large hot chocolate with cream and chocolate chip shortbread (not good for the new year diet I know) and set off with the good intention of an hours work on a proposal for a customer. I can see that BT are providing the WiFi but is the SSID BT WiFi, BT Openzone, BT Openzone-B, Bt with FON or actually there it is BT Openzone for Starbucks which frustratingly didn’t show up straight away.

I connect and get Skype WiFi pop up trying to get me to part with credit for using the system and after clicking off that get the splash page login which takes an age to load fully, after clicking connect I realize it must be running over a 56k modem and I’m sure I can hear the screech of a tape loading a game for the Commodore 64 to compliment my trip back in time. Sarcasm over, (for now) it was cripplingly slow and when I eventually got on that didn’t change, it also didn’t help being kicked off twice to add insult to injury.

I’m a massive believer in the cloud, our phone system is in the cloud, our CRM and literally everything else, so guess where the proposal is – yes that’s right sat nicely in the cloud in Google Docs. In an hour I would say I would be being generous if I said I got 20 minutes of actual work done between logging on and waiting for “Trying to contact Google Docs” appearing and freezing me from typing.

I’m now sat on a Virgin train with equally awful Free WiFi, although I am a bit more forgiving given the more mobile nature of it.

So in answer to my own question, I think if you are going to offer Free WiFi – which I whole heartedly think you should – then get it right. Put in a decent amount of bandwidth to cope with usage and make it easy to get on (please no forms). The benefits of Free WiFi for customers are endless and I will certainly keep on walking past Starbucks next time. I’ll have to put up with Virgin’s as the walk from London to Manchester may take a bit too long!