Attracting the free wifi tourists

On a daily basis more cities are announcing their intention to create city-wide wifi hotspots. From Tel Aviv to Perth in Australia, it’s a move that should be welcomed by local venues as it encourages both leisure and business tourists, which will boost the local economy.

Knowing you’ll have a free world wide wifi connection while you visit an unfamiliar place is a very attractive (and nowadays expected) service, which helps dictate where you choose to stay on your visit to a country.  It’s all very well having a connection in a bar or a hotel lobby but what happens when you leave the venue and need to use a map to find your way to your next meeting? Or when you want to check the reviews of a restaurant on TripAdvisor?

The locations around the world announcing their plans to offer free wifi for all have realised that there are benefits to be had from attracting more people to visit the area. But, as with any integrated telecommunications project, there are bound to be some obstacles to overcome along the way.

Getting over the technical hurdles

The biggest challenge is going to be getting the access points (APs) up, powered and cabled back to internet termination. Two options for achieving this are to have multiple xDSI type connections serving single or small groups of APs or, alternatively, to have them all cabled back to a central point, where traffic terminates.

The meshing of APs offers a little flexibility to extend range without the cabling but every hop on a meshed network roughly halves the throughput of the capacity so realistically two hops is the most you would want to do. If you are likely to have high volumes of users at the second hop then this might not be advisable either so plenty of research around expected volumes is going to be critical as more cities worldwide jump on the hotspot band wagon.

There is also the cost to consider, which again needs to deliver a clear return on investment for the location providing the free wifi service.  This is where a social wifi offering could generate valuable data for the city to benefit from and use to market itself more effectively to visitors, but the initial investment costs could still frighten some people along the way, as it did with LA officials six years ago!