Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Wire up the Gulfstream

The case for free Wi-Fi citywide

To the chagrin of many of my friends, I have not had a mobile telephone for several months. Some might consider this odd, but after a dispute with Vodafone relating to guest pay-as-you-go telephones that turned out not to be a “thank you for loyal custom since 1994” but in fact a way of over billing £750, I decide I’d try surviving without such.

For me, the result has been a joy as I no longer get disturbed by annoying text messages, I plan ahead better and I spend more time writing letters. I supposedly, also, deal with emails, some say, a little more efficiently. I’ve also found that free Wi-Fi is available in enough places that it is perfectly easy to remain in contact especially when my haunts are considered quite predictable.

For those trying to reach me, yes, I admit it can at times be frustrating and not having a mobile in case of an emergency situation is indeed perhaps foolish. I do not doubt that I will not ultimately cave in and get another contract but for the moment that I don’t disturb others on trains and buses with inane banter is most certainly a clear bonus.

This experience and a Tweet some time ago from my friend Amber Nuttall that complained about hotels charging for Wi-Fi “when they already charge you £18 for a club sandwich” got me on mission to demand that something that costs a venue so little, should be made available in all venues for free.

 Friday's Evening Standard "ES Magazine" piece extolling the case for free wireless citywide

In researching this piece, I emailed various venue owners and the comments I received were generally in favour of offering Wi-Fi without charge. Charlie Gilkes, co-owner of Barts, Maggie’s and Bunga Bunga, points out:

“We should learn from New York where it is pretty much citywide.”

PR guru Su-Lin Ong rightly adds that, in this economy, venues need to “make people linger.” Free Wi-Fi encourages such and when Lydia Forte of The Markham Inn highlighted the groundbreaking deal between Westminster City Council, Kensington & Chelsea Council and 02 that will create the largest free wireless hub in Europe, I was delighted. It’s rare for me to praise councils, but for this Councillors Nicholas Paget-Brown and Philippa Roe deserve credit.

Sarah Elder Chabot of Blackberry Farm and Dancing Bear Lodge, two rural retreats in Tennessee, sums up the case for hotels not charging well when she states:

I think now it is simply an amenity that should be in all hotels… Sort of like towels!”

Two of the few UK top-end hotel groups that offer free Wi-Fi are Red Carnation Hotels and Bespoke Hotels. Others, like The Savoy, Brown’s Hotel and Hilton Hotels would do well to follow their lead and cease charging their guests for wireless.

Soren Jessen, whose 1 Lombard Street and Ilia restaurants already offer Wi-Fi responded most commendably with a message, copied to his team, stating “let’s get rid of the passwords.” His approach ought to be followed.

Ted Turner once stated:

“To be happy in this world, first you need a cell phone and then you need an airplane. Then you're truly wireless.”

For now, I’ll pass on the cell phone as without it I can still be happily wireless. If Ted would like to send me a G500 though, I’ll happily accept.

Commendable places that offer free Wi-Fi include:

·      Barts, SW3:
·      Bespoke Hotels:
·      Blackberry Farm, Tennessee, USA:
·      Bunga-Bunga, SW11:
·      Dancing Bear Lodge, Tennessee, USA:
·      Elistano, SW3:
·      Embassy Mayfair Kitchen Joel Antunes, W1:
·      Franco's, SW1:
·      ETM Group venues including The Botanist, SW3:
·      Geronimo Inns throughout London:
·      Ilia Restaurant, SW3:
·      1 Lombard Street:
·      The Markham Inn:
·      The Princess of Shoreditch, EC2:
·      Shaker & Co:
·      The Stafford, SW1:
·      The V&A Museum:

For more information on the Westminster City Counil, Kensington & Chelsea and 02 Wi-Fi scheme, go to:


Dark Avenger said...

A substantial problem for some businesses of offering free wifi is people taking advantage and abusing the facility. It is all very well if someone sits in a coffee shop,orders a cup of coffee and a piece of cake, stays for 20-30 minutes, and then leaves. This is, I suspect, what you have in mind. It is not so simple if someone walks in, takes a seat, does not spend any money and expects to be able to sit for free all day making use of the wifi facility. The major problem with this is that there is now no seat for customers who purchase a cup of coffee and a piece of cake.  Because there is no seat, they may not stay and order but go elsewhere. It makes no business sense. 

There are people who literally spend all day in places such as Starbucks using the WiFi offered. They have a seat, a mobile phone, their laptop, supply of coffee and Starbucks becomes their "office." Starbucks might charge £5 an hour for the use of the Wifi but then do not kick people out of their seat. One can look at it a different way: Starbucks are in the business of renting space. 

James Tabor said...

You cannot build a business based on stopping the minority from abusing it as this is a dangerous practise. It would be better to have simple signs that remind guests that while the WiFi is free it is there to be enjoyed with the coffee and to encourage staff to ask possible abusers if they would care for anything else. If not then they should be asked to make space, especially if there is a queue.

Charging everyone for WiFi because 2/100 people abuse it is just bad business.

Christopher said...

It'll be free soon in most areas so this issue will be resolved. I bet Star*ucks and all those naughty hotels will be furious to lose this income stream. It made me so cross each time that I visited Brown's that I had to buy a £5 voucher just for an hour of two of wireless.

Adam Peterson said...

Well said!

Matthew Steeples said...

A very sensible point James. One cannot punish just because some people are bad.

Michael said...

You are wrong on this one Dark Avenger. It costs the business little and it attracts loyalty. They should move with the times.