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Wireless Networking Businesses

The Case for Free WiFi? 576

Posted by Cliff
from the 802.11-packets-want-to-be-free dept.
lgreco writes "Recently I was trying to convince a business man who is about to open an Internet Cafe, to provide WiFi at no charge. I argued about increased business and royalty and proposed that the infrastructure cost these days is reasonable and the recurring cost, along with the amortized payoff of the initial investment, can be recovered by adding a few cents to each beverage, etc. In spite of the numerous discussions on the merits of free WiFi v. paid at coffee shops, restaurants, etc, I was interested in hearing what do you think about the issue and if there are solid examples of successful businesses that offered free WiFi." If you were going to argue for or against this issue, what arguments would you use?
"A lot of proprietors seem to be concerned about the maintenance issue. Not so much about the hardware maintenance than software: auditing etc. Some are also concerned about legal ramifications if their customers are caught downloading music or movies illegally.

I am not aware of any Internet cafe or similar business that got hit by our beloved RIAA but what if their lawyers subpoena a small proprietor for download records? If you are running a shoestring infrastructure with a cable modem with an Airport base station what kind of logs could you possibly proviide? If a kid walks in for a lemonade and starts downloading porn what do you tell the parents when they sent their lawyer to pay you a visit?

It would seem that if you let a provider offer the WiFi service at your place of business for a fee, they can deal with liabilities, maintenance etc, so this is one less thing to worry about when setting up the business. Yet expecting your customers to pay $6-$10/hr for WiFi is so ridiculous and such a turn off for them."
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The Case for Free WiFi?

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  • Panera... (Score:5, Informative)

    by garcia (6573) * on Friday July 29, 2005 @02:50PM (#13197084) Homepage
    I was interested in hearing what do you think about the issue and if there are solid examples of successful businesses that offered free WiFi.

    Panera [slashdot.org] has the largest (or one of) free wifi network out there.
    • I argued about increased business and royalty and proposed that the infrastructure cost these days is reasonable Lemme get this straight - You put in WiFi and suddenly royalty wants to patronize your coffee shop? Who knew the Queen Mum was into wireless? Is she a java junky and the whole tea thing is just for the tourists? Hell, she's probably lurking on Shashdot as we speak, waiting to drag out some "In Soviet Russia..." cliche.
      • by bigman2003 (671309) on Friday July 29, 2005 @04:13PM (#13197961) Homepage
        Okay- Royalty mis-typing aside...

        The entire article just screams, "I have never owned a business!"

        See, the businessman sees this as a potential revenue stream. If he wants to run a successful coffee shop, he is thinking about ways to make money.

        Going to businesses that make money is great- because they will be around for a while, and are generally nicer to be in.

        The coffee shop owner may be thinking: "I only have seating for 12 people. If 5 people sit here for an hour, sucking up my bandwidth...where will the other customers sit?"

        Ever go to a coffee shop in a university town? It sucks. Students claim every table, and spread out their laptops, papers, books, backpacks etc. Then they sit there for hours nursing one drink.

        Sure, it is great for the students- but what about the business? A lot of other customers are scared away. There are two coffee shops in the town I work (university town) that I have not stepped foot in for about 3 years, exactly for this reason. Even the local Borders Books suffers from this problem.

        Making $3.50 per table every 2 hours will not keep them in business. It's all about getting drinks out the door.
        • by Snoflayke5 (903707) on Friday July 29, 2005 @05:10PM (#13198420)
          There's alot of hyperbole around this issue and some substantive facts:

          -Very good points on the need to look at the hard business "benefits" Very on target.

          -No Cafe owner has ever been sued by the RIAA. The RIAA uses lawsuits for marketing; they want to cut off end users, ie reformed 12 year olds in pepsi ads, not cafe owners. There's not alot of "marketing payoff" in expending legal resources on cafe owner ip lawsuits.

          -Costs are the $40 a month for a dsl line from the phone co. Modem/Routers rarely wear out under heavy use.

          -From my vantage point here in San Francisco working @ a free wireless cafe, prior points aside,I'd say wifi is a mixed bag for cafe owners.

          In the spirit of this thread, my favorite cafe discontinued free wifi a few months back because customers "stayed too long." Often these customers stayed w/o continuously buying drinks and food.

          Sooo, if you run a cafe that, w/o free wifi, already has hordes of loyal impassioned customers and quick turnover, your business already does what a successful cafe should do (coffee sales being a great driver of profits--$1.50 on 4 cents of supplies). --Don't take the chance that freeloaders like me (I tip very generously) will crowd up those seats for hours.

          The ideal application for free wifi is to turn it on only during otherwise slow hours and post those hours prominently. This way you can use it as necc to hopefully drive business.

          -Paid wifi: kind of dumb business model. Great if you need it and mainly work at the same place, but #'s of users are usually pretty few. Won't drive revenues for an otherwise flailing cafe.

          Hope this helps!
          • by WebCrapper (667046) on Friday July 29, 2005 @06:30PM (#13198912)
            I seem to remember there being some software that would cause the POS and router to interact so that it would allow you to connect when you purchased something. Basically, you buy something and your free password to the system is on the receipt. After X amount of time, it will disconnect you, causing you to buy something else. Using this, you could basically keep your product rates the same and watch your average person either clear out when their time is up, freeing up space - or cause them to run over and buy something else real quick. The military (ok, MWR) is currently using the same type of sessions on their computer equipment for soldiers to use, most places you get a half hour to an hour and you're done unless someone ups the time for you.

            I know this technically goes against the "free" part of it all, but it is a way for the system to work and free up the tables of people nursing one drink every 3-4 hours. It would also keep others on the outside of the shop from leeching on the connection as well.
        • by MAdMaxOr (834679) on Friday July 29, 2005 @05:16PM (#13198470)
          That's why my favorite coffee shop has some couches and tables designated as study-free zones. If an employee walks by and you have a laptop or textbook out, you'll be kindly asked to move.

          I think this works out well for everyone.
        • The coffee shop owner may be thinking: "I only have seating for 12 people. If 5 people sit here for an hour, sucking up my bandwidth...where will the other customers sit?"

          I remember reading somewhere that McDonald's had purposefully designed the seating in its restaurants to become uncomfortable after about 10-15 minutes. They don't want people hanging about (and they definitely don't want homeless hanging about. Wendy's has more comfortable seating, and I see homeless in there all the time.)
    • Re:Panera... (Score:3, Informative)

      by Kolisar (665024)
      For what it is worth, a friend of mine does a lot of his business related work in Paneras in the area because of the free WiFi. He also spends a reasonable amount of money there as he is more likely to eat there since he is already there checking email, etc... And, so as to not feel guilty, if he is not there around meal time he will at least purchase a beverage. The free WiFi brings him there as opposed to going to StarBucks or other locations that charge for WiFi access.
    • Re:Panera... (Score:4, Insightful)

      by ooby (729259) on Friday July 29, 2005 @03:05PM (#13197272)
      I think that by slightly increasing the cost of each other product to offset the cost of providing a free service that not everyone uses is very cost effective. When you go into a cafe with free WiFi, you never see a notebook in front of every patron. One can suspect that the bandwidth demand is small, so the proprietor of such an establishment would not need to spend extra money on a wider pipeline. You provide a feature few will use and everybody says, "They've got WiFi." They go there and think, "This place has WiFi, if I ever had a laptop and a need to check my email while drinking my coffee, maybe I'd bring it here."
      • Re:Panera... (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Romeozulu (248240) on Friday July 29, 2005 @03:24PM (#13197450)
        There is a coffee shop here in Portland that has free wifi and it's filled with people with laptops. That is all that is there, and there is never a free table. I stopped going there for my afternoon coffee.

        I think there is a downside to it being free. I'd like to see a simple system where I get 30 minutes free with a drink. Not sure how that would work, but it would keep the free loaders out.
        • Re:Panera... (Score:5, Interesting)

          by coldincalifornia (903694) on Friday July 29, 2005 @03:44PM (#13197699)
          Easy enough to fix, just don't provide any power outlets. Most laptop batteries will be dead in 2 hours, and they'll have to go home.
        • Re:Panera... (Score:5, Interesting)

          by CritterNYC (190163) on Friday July 29, 2005 @05:16PM (#13198468) Homepage
          I think there is a downside to it being free. I'd like to see a simple system where I get 30 minutes free with a drink. Not sure how that would work, but it would keep the free loaders out.

          I agree with the downside, especially in some locations. My local coffee/tea shop gives you 30 minutes of time with each drink you order. It's only $2 an hour after that. And they even have about a half dozen repurposed laptops with Ubuntu loaded on them available.

          There are a few people that work from there for an hour or two (or more) during the day. They just had a going-away party for a regular who was leaving the country.

          freezepeach.org [freezepeach.org]
      • If you have infinite tables, Free Services are great, and often better than metered services, because metering is a pain.

        But you don't have infinite tables, and somebody sitting on your wifi for an hour with a cup of coffee might be LOOSING you money.

        If I could wave a wand and create whatever system I wanted I would have BOTH. This way you get to have the best of both worlds.

        A free system that had capped bandwidth (50k, perhaps) and was turned off during periods of peak patronage of the cafe. You start ou
        • There's an easy way to solve that. Put your store across from a park and use a directional antenna to provide localized coverage with your business name on it. People can sit anywhere, not just in the coffee shop. Unless it's raining, a lot of folks will choose to sit outside instead, given the opportunity.

          Even better, since the business name is on the hotspot AP, you'll draw in people from the surrounding businesses over time.

          • Mod parent up.

            Being a college student, I know of all the local places that provide free WiFi, and I also know of the places that have net access outside of the actual building, and allow you to use it. These are the places that are consistently busy with people during nice weather, and it is a "free" advertisement for their business.

            I'm far more likely to visit a business that is less restrictive (ie free unlimited WiFi) because I never know what kind of work (or play) I will be involved in when I get to
    • Re:Panera... (Score:4, Insightful)

      by krgallagher (743575) on Friday July 29, 2005 @03:12PM (#13197338) Homepage
      "Panera has the largest (or one of) free wifi network out there."

      Without wanting to sound like a drunk, I prefer my free wifi in bars. Goose Island [gooseisland.com] in Chicago and Two Rows [tworows.com] in the DFW Metropex are two great examples.

      • People are probably more likely to drop $50 on beer over the course of sitting there than they are to drop $50 on coffee, too.

        Though my coding gets pretty sloppy after a few pints of Bass or glasses of wine.
    • Re:Panera... (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward
      I have read somewhere that coffee shops were realizing higher revenue by NOT have internet.

      The model says if you turn over your seats quicker, you make more money.

      Internet nets you customers that are there longer, doing work, checking email... and nursing ONE coffee.

      Just what I read... no links to back it up
      • Panera have a solution to the crowding problem, they turn off the WiFi at lunch time. We go there every Monday while the cleaners are doing the house. We do not spend any longer now they have WiFi than before but I do go at other times during the week and I frequently hold business meetings at Paneras.

        If a coffee shop has a problem with people who stay too long they need to look at what they do at peep shows. They should have a Faraday cage around each seat with a little flap that stays open while you fee

  • by brunes69 (86786) <slashdot&keirstead,org> on Friday July 29, 2005 @02:50PM (#13197086) Homepage
    ... then what is the difference between if the customers have free access to wired terminals, or if there is free WiFi?

    • The cost.... a WAP - a good one at that costs less than $300 US... a single terminal is at least that much. And then there's the fact that there is only one... and you have to maintain them. Laptops abound, let them just bring them in and use them.
      Additionally I would say if you could do an automatically generated access code for paying customers then it definatly would outwiegh paid WiFi in the long run. Just look at it as this...
      $5/hr - maybe 300 people use it all month... $50/Day
      1000 beverages a d
    • Much higher cost for the business to have terminals (coffee getting spilled into them seems like an obvious problem), less conveience for the customers (how do you arrange the machines in such a way to have a healthy social atmosphere?)

      businesspeople will also not be able to log into their corporate VPNs without their laptops or do most business related tasks.

      i'll take free wifi any day over terminals
    • by EggyToast (858951) on Friday July 29, 2005 @03:18PM (#13197380) Homepage
      Free access to wired terminals means you need to support the hardware, maintain the hardware, and administer the hardware. If it's a cafe, that means you get to replace keyboards every week, as people spill on them.

      Free wireless means you maintain just the router, which is generally a "turn on" situation. Everyone brings their own hardware.

      I'd say that's a pretty huge difference.

  • The case against (Score:5, Insightful)

    by HyperChicken (794660) * on Friday July 29, 2005 @02:51PM (#13197092)
    I do remember a coffee shop discontinuing free WiFi on the weekends due to people coming in, using the WiFi, hijacking tables, and not buying anything. http://wifinetnews.com/archives/005325.html [wifinetnews.com] http://slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=05/05/26/234225 6 [slashdot.org]

    I'd suggest "free WiFi with purchase". Buy something and a WiFi access code is printed on your receipt good for an hour or two. The customers get what they want and the freeloaders can go else where.

    Granted, it is a slight hassle for the paying customer, and I'm sure dedicated freeloaders will dig through trash to find half-used access codes (or eventually figure out how you're generating codes), but it's still better than smelly nerds hogging tables for head-to-head D&D play over the access point.
    • by Lemmy Caution (8378)
      There's a local cafe that is implementing that very system due to a problem with freeloaders. Seems reasonable - 10 dollars of purchases gets you 4 hours of time.

      They had an "honor system" before, but it was abused.
    • by garcia (6573) *
      Why would I go there when there are numerous other coffee shops that require nothing of the sort?

      Less than a mile from my home is a Dunn Brothers Coffee shop and another mile from that is a Panera. Neither require a purchase to use their network but it's fairly rare to see anyone not at least having a coffee while they're there.

      Open it up for all those that enter or suffer the consequences of those that can and do offer it free.
      • I'm not arguing for or against, but equally probable is that the freeloaders will move from the restrictive cafe over to the non-restrictive ones, thus cascading the problem.
        • Perhaps it's our area but I haven't seen much "freeloading" for WiFi. Within a mile of that Panera I can name 4 other places that offer free WiFi: Old Chicago, Buffalo Wild Wings, Starbucks, and Dunn Brothers Coffee. I also happen to know that within 2 miles you start hitting residential neighborhoods (including my own) which also offer plenty of free WiFi.

          So perhaps, once the availability is there the "freeloaders" drop?
      • by Nugget (7382)
        What exactly is the "consequence" which would have to be suffered through? The absence of people who aren't going to spend any money anyway?
    • Hmmm. This sounds awfully familiar [slashdot.org]. I just can't put my finger on it....

      --
    • "Granted, it is a slight hassle for the paying customer, and I'm sure dedicated freeloaders will dig through trash to find half-used access codes (or eventually figure out how you're generating codes), but it's still better than smelly nerds hogging tables for head-to-head D&D play over the access point."

      Given the relatively small number of people who would be using this service at a given time, I wouldn't think it'd be too big a deal to authenticate against a database back end to prevent misuse. The re
    • Leaches (Score:4, Insightful)

      by sterno (16320) on Friday July 29, 2005 @03:17PM (#13197375) Homepage
      It's a common policy of many coffeeshops I know of to have minimum purchase requirements. Even before the times of Wifi, cool coffeeshops were where a lot of the young and broke kids would hang out. Invariably they'd try to get away with buying a small cup of coffee then lingering for 3 hours.

      The problem with codes or any sort of regulation of the access is that it creates a support problem. So you're slinging coffee and somebody gets a code that doesn't work. Now you have to take time away from making coffee and worry about tech support. It doesn't take too many things like that to screw up the cost/benefit of it. Does your barista know how to fix a WiFi network? Probably not.

      Free WiFi became a popular concept because people don't demand much from a free service. If they log on and it doesn't work or it's slow they won't complain because they didn't pay for it. Those who can cope with it will use it and be happy, those who can't don't become a burden to you.

    • A simple solution (Score:5, Interesting)

      by DaveAtFraud (460127) on Friday July 29, 2005 @03:30PM (#13197539) Homepage Journal
      An easy way to keep people from staying for more than a couple of hours is to not provide power outlets at the tables intended for laptop users. Short of somebody coming in with a fully charged spare battery or two, most laptops will chew through the battery in a couple of hours. Some will last longer but most won't.

      You'll find this is true at the larger free wifi providers like Panera. You can use their wifi for only as long as your battery holds out at which point you can still sit and stare at a blank screen if you so desire.
    • Zyxel sells an access point designed for just this purpose: ZyAir B-4000. Much easier than implementing it yourself, unless there is already on Open Source solution based on NoCat or something similar.

      http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,1759,1650238,00.as p [pcmag.com]

      http://www.zyxel.com/product/model.php?indexcate=1 060053881&indexcate1=1085450334&indexFlagvalue=102 1876859 [zyxel.com]
  • Free Wi-Fi? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by DotNM (737979) *
    Wouldn't it be possible that people would come and use the free Wi-Fi instead of coming and paying to use the desktop computers?
    • It would be possible that people that own laptops would. But these same people are unlikely to use the desktops. They'd just move on to a cafe where they can use their laptop, instead of staying and ordering a latte and a muffin.
  • by bigwavejas (678602) * on Friday July 29, 2005 @02:51PM (#13197095) Journal
    I have no idea about the legalities in question, but I can offer you some insight to my observations at a local Coffeeshop.

    The owner initially set-up a "pay as you go" internet connection, where you could either use his computers, or he'd give you a temporary username/ password to access his wireless router. Initially, this worked well for him, as he was the first Coffeeshop in the area to offer internet access. As time went on and other Coffeeshop's started to offer "free" internet (to draw in people), I noticed the volume of people diminished. At that point he made the decision to offer "free" internet for those with wireless laptops, yet continued to charge if you opted to use his computers. I personally feel with all the free WiFi Access Points you're going to have a hard time finding someone who will pay.

    One thing to keep in mind if you decide to offer "free" internet is you're going to get people who campout on their laptops and take up table space for hours at a time. Some people even stay there all damn day like it's their personal office space. This might lend itself to loss of business from patrons just wanting a quick cappuccino or dessert and having no seats available. I'd make sure to designate certain tables with time limits or as "No Internet." Good luck!

    • Instead of a solid time limit, you could just reserve the right to kick out people who haven't made a purchase in the last thirty/fourty minutes or so.

      If I end up on the internet for an extended period of time at a coffeeshop/cafe, I generally make it a practice to keep buying drinks. It generally keeps the people running the place happy.
    • One thing to keep in mind if you decide to offer "free" internet is you're going to get people who campout on their laptops and take up table space for hours at a time. Some people even stay there all damn day like it's their personal office space.

      A valid concern, to be sure. If one goes as far as giving out temporary usernames/passwords with the purchase of items, you could combat this by having the logons expire after a certain period of time. That way, they'd have to keep buying to stay online (at leas
    • I've been to a number of pool halls that basically require you to have a "beverage" at all times. If you are found to be empty you either have to buy another or leave. This seems to have worked out alright and is easy for customers to understand.

      No tickets, recipts, servers, tech support or other crap to deal with.

      I think a lot of people overlook this most obvious answer. That is asking the people in your shop that if they aren't going to buy anything, make room for someone who will.

    • by drooling-dog (189103) on Friday July 29, 2005 @03:24PM (#13197447)
      you're going to get people who campout on their laptops and take up table space for hours at a time.

      I'm guessing that most people (myself included) go to coffee shops mainly to hang out there. Anyone who owns/runs a coffeeshop knows that table space is their critical asset, and they probably measure revenue in $/table-hour rather than by the product they sell. Therefore, why not rent the table space, and sell your coffee at a reduced or nominal fee? That way, anything that people do there is paid for, WiFi access included.

      Of course, you'd have to resolve the sensitive issue of how to gently remind people that their time is up (or to pay for an additional hour). Perhaps an electric shock of progressive severity, or metal spikes rising out of the chair, would do nicely...

  • If you're going to try to convince someone to offer free WiFi, make sure they know that they might be liable for things customers use it for if they don't take the proper steps beforehand.
  • by demonic-halo (652519) on Friday July 29, 2005 @02:53PM (#13197117)
    You can setup a proxy server which will intercept http: traffic and insert ad banners into the web pages it serves.
  • Wi-Fi and Coffee shops don't always mix. Sure it works for big chains like starbucks. But sometimes people want to get coffee and get away from work for a while. Also there is the issue of people just sitting their and no drinking coffee and just working. So if you are going to have a coffee shop with Wi-Fi you probably need an informal so many drinks an hour or please get out. Also if people come for the Wi-Fi if the connection goes down. The guy looses buisness.
  • My Wife (Score:3, Funny)

    by hexed_2050 (841538) on Friday July 29, 2005 @02:53PM (#13197120)
    I'd get my wife to argue with him. Somehow she won the arguement to delete WoW from my hd.
  • common carrier? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MasterD (18638) on Friday July 29, 2005 @02:53PM (#13197121) Journal
    Is a coffee shop going to be held accountable if somebody sells drugs using the public phone next to the bathroom? Or discusses an illegal business deal at of their tables? Of course not, so why should they be help responsible for what people do over their Internet connection?
    • Re:common carrier? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by jellomizer (103300) * on Friday July 29, 2005 @02:59PM (#13197212)
      Because computer are new and strange. Normal laws do not apply. Because it is with those magical computers that are thinking brains. Sience you own the thinking brain and it does illegal stuff thereforth you are responcible.
    • Because, when the crime is committed, the IP address is what it's going to be tracked to. It's all good to claim that it wasn't you, but someone else using your computer - - it's just not a very strong defense. Someone should be responsible for what's going on with that connection. If you don't hold the owner responsible, who is?

      I think that's why providers of WiFi should set up some kind of authentication system with customers' real names...it would give them some level of protection.
    • The pay phone is provided by the phone company. They may rent the space from you, but it is the phone company's responsibility and liability. An Internet connection is provided by the business owner, who might assume resonsibility and liability for actions taken by patrons who use that service.

      On a side note, if a local ISP were able to find a way to make money off a free WiFi connection (earlier comments mention a proxy server replacing all banner ads), they would be able to absolve small shops of any
    • Unfortunately, in the USA laws are not nearly so rational outside of computer usage either. For example, police and congresscritters with little respect for civil liberties have imposed draconian arrest and imprisonment of organizers of "rave" dances; with "facilitation" charges against, e.g. people who sell or give away glow sticks (i.e. under topsy-turvy fascistic thinking, drug paraphenelia).

      Busts have included charges under the 'Ecstasy Awareness Act' (2003 H.R. 2962), or even RICO charges. Mind you,
  • by Ossus_10 (844890) on Friday July 29, 2005 @02:53PM (#13197124)
    I have a friend who runs a bagel shop (coffee, sandwiches, bagels, etc...). He is moving to a larger location in order to provide free WiFi. The reason hes moving is because he experimented with WiFi before, and his old building was not big enough to accommodate all the extra buisness he recived when providing free WiFi. That to me sounds like a huge reason to provide free WiFi over paid. Ossus
  • It sounds like you want to use logic to win an argument. In my time on this planet, I've found that never works. You can try your hardest, then just let him do it his own way. Once he finds that customers are turned off by being treated like a criminal, he'll do it the Panera way.
  • by Myko (11551)
    Charging would not alleviate any liability that you mention, and would actually add more. By receiving money, they now have a vested interest in the actions of the customers and are more responsible than if it were free.
    • I'm not so sure about that. In the case of p2p lawsuits, they can only go after the IP address. If you set up a charge system like tmobile's, you have every customer's name, address and cc #. If you get sued, you can have records as to who was using your connection at that time. If it's all free and open, the owner of the connection is pretty much screwed. What if the crime was bigger than stealing mp3s? Think cracking, child porn, etc...I wouldn't want to be responsible for others' actions on the Int
  • Arguments Against (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Ieshan (409693) <ieshan@gmail. c o m> on Friday July 29, 2005 @02:55PM (#13197153) Homepage Journal
    While it's practically painless to set up these days, a big argument against WiFi in any business is the type of client you attract.

    Remember that you're likely to attract businessy types too busy to do anything but work during lunch, or student/cheap types too cheap to pay for highspeed access themselves (and therefore, unlikely to spend $30 a month on coffee). Is this really the atmosphere you want in your business?

    It also depends what type of netcafe you're opening. There are netcafes primarily for gaming, and those primarily for getting a cup of coffee while surfing the net. I've worked in one where people are basically gaming straight up, and the atmosphere is radically different than the local coffee shop.

    If you want a social, living coffeeshop, I'd say cut off the internet access. People go to a coffeeshop to relax with friends, listen to jazz, or curl up in a comfy chair with a big book. As much of a netaholic as I am, there has to be a balance somewhere.
    • Re:Arguments Against (Score:5, Interesting)

      by utexaspunk (527541) on Friday July 29, 2005 @03:15PM (#13197363)
      or student/cheap types too cheap to pay for highspeed access themselves (and therefore, unlikely to spend $30 a month on coffee)

      in my student experience, it was the other way around. i could afford to either have a high speed connection or buy coffee and hang out the coffee shop regularly. with the coffee shops offering free wifi, it was no longer either/or, so i opted to ditch the high-speed at home and just go to the coffee shop.
    • by MrLee (173753)
      "If you want a social, living coffeeshop, I'd say cut off the internet access. People go to a coffeeshop to relax with friends, listen to jazz, or curl up in a comfy chair with a big book. As much of a netaholic as I am, there has to be a balance somewhere."
      BAH! I don't know if I can disagree with this more. The coffeeshop that I frequent has all of the above AND a good number of customers who get online. There is almost NO gaming and NO JAZZ.
      It's not a beatnick hangout for those with receding hairline po
  • $6-$10/hr? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by bill_mcgonigle (4333) * on Friday July 29, 2005 @02:56PM (#13197168) Homepage Journal
    What? Marriot doesn't even get away with prices like that. There's a coffee shop down the street that's going to profit from his pricing scheme...

    If he's concerned with freeloaders, have the cash register print out a code on the receipt that you can enter into a nocat captive portal to authenticate against a RADIUS server. Give them an hour for each purchase, for instance. Tie the code to single MAC address, etc.

    But consider the cost of integrating your cash register, running the server, dealing with the tech support, etc. vs. the cost of sticking a WRT54G on a wire and letting a few freeloaders on the 'net.
    • Yeah, if you're going to charge for access, two or two fifty an hour makes more sense, especially if (like most coffeeshops I've seen) your clientele is composed largely of college students who probably get paid about that much an hour at work.
    • Re:$6-$10/hr? (Score:3, Insightful)

      by mrchaotica (681592)
      The cost of freeloaders is not bandwidth, but table space. I say just put up a sign saying "if we run out of tables and you're sitting there surfing while not having bought anything recently, we reserve the right to kick you out in favor of paying customers."
    • Re:$6-$10/hr? (Score:3, Informative)

      by bitkid (21572)
      There are two linux-distros for the Linksys WRT54G that are meant to help with setting up hotspots:

      EWRT Linux http://www.portless.net/menu/ewrt/ [portless.net] and the hotspot-zone project http://sourceforge.net/projects/hotspot-zone/ [sourceforge.net]. Both use nocat as the captive portal, the later offers radius authentication patches for nocat.
  • by Shoten (260439) on Friday July 29, 2005 @02:57PM (#13197179)
    In the Adams Morgan neighborhood of DC, there's a coffee shop called "Tryst" (I like them, so I won't post a link here. Poor guys would get slashdotted into oblivion!) that has free wifi. Now, Adams Morgan is NOT a cheap place to have a business, and Tryst is simply huge. The place is full of sofas, loveseats and easy chairs...not a single mass-produced cafe chair can be found in the place, in all truth, so it actually has a relatively low density as far as customers per square foot. They do solid business, though, because they are reknowned as a great place for students, consultants, etc. to work. Go in there at night, and it's social. But go there during the middle of the day, and it's STILL busy, and looking like a forest of laptops. The people take advantage of the free wifi, and they buy coffee, beer, and food at the same time. I used to live mere blocks from them, and actually wrote most of my book in some of those comfortable chairs while racking up a tab consisting of caffeine and beer in alternating amounts. The place has this incredible buzz to it that makes it perfect to work in, and this in turn is the key to their being busy all day long, every day.

    There's a flipside to this, though. It's no secret that in some cases, coffee shops that offer free wifi end up with nothing more than wifi freeloaders, who go in, power up and sit down to work without ordering a thing. I honestly don't know how the flip comes about, but Tryst doesn't do anything to require that people purchase, it just takes care of itself. Part of it could be the quality of their food and drink...their coffee is just unbelievable. It's Seattle-good, to put it as a couple of my friends from there did.
    • by anaesthetica (596507) on Friday July 29, 2005 @04:14PM (#13197964) Homepage Journal
      A few months ago Tryst started a policy of not offering Wi-Fi on weekends, precisely because of freeloaders taking up all the sofa spots and being anti-social. They allow free wireless on weekdays because it helps them maintain volume through the weekdays, but on the weekend (when they're packed to the gills regardless) I think they'd rather have social (read: paying) customers instead.

      However, Tryst is hands down the best hang-out coffee shop in the city, and perhaps even on the eastern seaboard.

      Nice to see another DC /.er. Cheers!
  • A post a while back in boing boing (http://www.boingboing.net/2003/07/27/wifi_is_too _ expensiv.html [boingboing.net])
    noted that the added cost of administering and accounting for a pay wifi site ($30) versus a free site ($6) made the profit very difficult. In comparison a free site was cheap enough to easily make a net profit from the increased traffic it drew.

    So simply show then the money.
  • Free Wifi, with paid computer rentals, is advertising for a restaurant or hotel or other business. It should be looked upon as such.
  • He's running an internet café, so his principle business is presumably selling computer usage. This is not a coffee shop where the money is made in keeping a steady stream of customers around to pay $3/cup.

    I assume this guy is probably planning to sell snacks/drinks/coffee to bolster his bottom line, but let's not forget that his business is not a coffee shop. Approaching this like Panera Bread or even the local mom and pop coffee place isn't necessarily the most intelligent way to go.

    Additionally, I
  • If one of the wireless users is sharing movies and crap, there is a distinct possibility that the MPAA will notify the ISP. The ISP is then legally required to either get rid of the file from the user's machine, or *shut off* that user. Which means the coffee shops access will be killed by the ISP.

    Major hassle. Not to mention that the coffee shop will basically be an ISP. There will be users screwing the local network up with viruses, users who can't figure out how to get on and want help...all of which
  • Argument against: people outside the cafe can probably access the free WiFi as well

    Argument for: The control systems and maintenance required to make sure people are paying for their WiFi connection probably cost more than any additional revenue you can get from it. I know if I had a laptop, I'd keep looking until I found a place with open access, just to avoid the hassle.

  • World Cup in Portland has free WiFi. The last time I checked, they were doing OK. They have two locations (that I know of). Both are downtown. One of a coffee shop and the other is the coffee shop inside Powell's main downtown location.

  • My argument would be simple:

    Why make it free when 90% of people would pay $1/day for it?

    Maybe if you have regulars, you could offer discounts, like $0.25/day, but the idea here is just like with music downloads: people will pay for it, just not a lot.
  • I make it a point to only frequent shops that provide free net access as opposed to places that are "T-Mobile" hotspots ($30/month). It's worth it to me.

    Peace

  • In this case, the retailer thinks he's going to do well reselling internet access. Giving it away for free doesn't really fit into his business plan.

    I'm guessing the guy isn't technically savvy either if you had to explain the whole wireless thing to him.

    Other Retailers:
    The average coffee retailer may not be so sophisticated as to understand loss-leader pricing. Loss-leading is a financial disaster if it isn't executed well. This might lead to the camping-out characters.

    It seems simple to most ./'s. Set
  • All it takes is a few dedicated free loaders to make it not worth it for most coffee shops. Starbucks, Panera, our local chain called the Daily Grind and others don't mind people coming in and sitting down for a few hours if they buy at least something modest there, but the people you have to worry about are the cheapskates that buy nothing and still mooch off the wifi.

    I would have no problem paying $1-$2 for a few hours of access on top of buying an espresso drink, and I can't really say that our local Sta
  • by TomorrowPlusX (571956) on Friday July 29, 2005 @03:09PM (#13197303)
    There's a lot of coffee shops around me ( Washington DC ) which have pay wireless access. I've never felt the need to do so -- even though 90% of the time I spend working on my personal programming projects is done in coffee shops in the morning before work, and internet access would be helpful ( looking up documentation, etc ).

    What I've done, instead, is ride my bike around to find coffee shops which either provide free access, or which are near or beneath offices with "default" or "linksys" WAPs without passwords.

    In fact, it's gotten to the point that I know off the top of my head about a half-dozen free WAPs in my area which I can use. I see no reason to pay for access when I can just ride my bike down the street to a place where the inept sysadmins don't know any better.

    In fact, at one of these coffee shops, ( Caribou Coffee, Pennsyvania Ave & 17th ) there was at one point so many unsecured WAPs that I had to use the "Air Traffic Control" Dashboard widget to select the one I wanted, since there were, literally, four WAPs named "linksys" running on ( I think ) channel 11. The Airport menu bar selector didn't work very well in that situation.

    Charging for wireless is basically a fool's errand. Few will use it, and, I have to assume, you'll be lucky to make up the outlay for the service, unless you roll your own billing machanism.
    • by DigiShaman (671371) on Friday July 29, 2005 @03:24PM (#13197454) Homepage
      It's your call, I'm not going to stop you from leeching bandwidth. However, may I urge you and fellow slashdotters to be ethical about it. I mean, if you really need net access and just plan on checking e-mail for a moment, then I suppose it's alright. But please, for the love of God, don't be pulling shit from IRC or saturating the connection with Bittorrents. If you need that kind of bandwidth, do it at home on your OWN connection.
      • by Dun Malg (230075) on Friday July 29, 2005 @05:34PM (#13198582) Homepage
        But please, for the love of God, don't be pulling shit from IRC or saturating the connection with Bittorrents. If you need that kind of bandwidth, do it at home on your OWN connection.

        Sheesh. What sort of dork downloads things on their laptop directly? Real dorks use the web interfaces for eMule or ABC to tell their computer(s) at home on the real internet connection to do the downloading. Who wants to sit around a coffee shop waiting for a download to finish before they can leave?

  • For wireless (and internet in general) we are currently in a mostly toll-road type of system. You pay to get on at home, and you pay to get on at the coffee shop.

    Some stores, offer free internet to customers, because it is relativly inexpensive, draws customers in, and differentiates them from the competition.

    Some cities are starting to offer free internet for the same reasons. It is relativly inexpensive to offer, and draws the interests of potiental residents and businesses. This is similar to why a city
  • by BrK (39585)
    I see a lot of "squatters" at Starbucks, Beaners, Panera, etc that will sip a single $2.00 coffee for 3 hours just to sit there and surf the net.

    I think a system that worked like the gas-station car wash would be best. With every purchase (or every $8.00 spent) you get a code worth 1 hour of access time.
  • Offer free WiFi but put meters on the electrical outlets. That limits customers to the battery life of their laptops, generally a couple hours.
  • Use a login system that makes everyone fill in their name and telephone number when they first attempt to connect to the 'Net from the shop. When the name and tel are submitted, the script gets the IP address, connects it to a MAC address and puts it in a database.

    From there, have all traffic in or out be logged. The traffic won't be that high, really. Set up a spare box with a Dual-Layer DVD burner and a nice sized hard drive to hold the logs. Burn stuff off any time you have the 9.5 GB (or however big
  • They have 'cafe accounts'. Basically it's X amount of free access per 24 hours. The first login is a redirect to whatever page you want, and with a little code fragment on there someone can turn on WiFi outside of the walled garden. Their default built-in page only works with IE but the code fragment is browser-agnostic.

    Anyway, seems like a reasonable solution ... if people want to freeload, they can, just only for X amount of time per day. We're setting it up so that people can also sign up for full-day or
  • Basically, it comes down to the fact that the cost of charging for access is greater than the access is worth to most customers.

    Some people have a hard time with "giving (it) away" but when they try charging for (it) they end up spending a fortune on lockdown tools, auditing, system maintenance, cashier time, customer delays getting coffee, etc. Never mind the good/ill will issue, it's just difficult to justify at a basic cost-of-doing-business level.

  • The main reason not to offer free WiFi is to avoid leachers. You know, the type that will come in, buy hardly anything, use the connection for hours, all while tying up a table a paying customer could be using.

    I'd recommend a "free" connection tied to a minimum purchase price with a maximum time limit. That'd keep real customers happy and get rid of the leaches.
  • by ishmalius (153450) on Friday July 29, 2005 @03:22PM (#13197422)
    That's what I did. The local pub had business Internet access, but was totally neutral whether or not he provided wireless access to his customers. He just didn't want the headache of setting it up or running it. So I purchased a nice cheap 802.11g access point for about $45 from the web about 15 months ago. I just gave it to the pub owner. I set it up, gave it an easy-to-remember WEP code, and that was that. He has never needed to worry about it at all since then. I have had free access there for 15 months now, so that comes out to $3/month for me, and $0 for everyone else. With the occasional beer someone buys me in thanks, I have come out way ahead.
  • by cmause (903686) on Friday July 29, 2005 @04:10PM (#13197926)
    My wife and I own a little outdoor cafe in Tempe, AZ, and we offer free Wi-Fi. I work as a software developer during the day, and my wife runs our restaurant. We would have paid the approx. $35 per month to Qwest for a 1 Mbps DSL line anyway (to use our computer), and the DSL modem had the wireless router built right in. So why not offer it for free? I checked around to see what if any companies wanted to put in service and maintain it. The hassle factor was way too high, and I know my customers would have been irritated at the prospect of paying. For about $1 a day (I sound like Sally Struthers), I can get people in the door to buy my coffee, sandwiches and/or beer. When they're done surfing the web, they'll stick around for the live music. We don't get too many squatters. When we do, the server (the human who brings you your food, not the one that delivers HTTP content) just reminds the offender that the internet is free for our CUSTOMERS. I thought about a technological solution, but I think that the human touch works a little better. Generally people will buy something if reminded, rather than leave if they just get cut off. I get plenty of positive feedback from my customers about the free internet. On the other hand, I have never had anyone suggest that we start charging. There will be people who abuse anything you give away. We have had customers take handfuls of sugar packets and stuff them in their purses. We have kids take a dozen packets of crackers to feed the ducks (we're on a lake). I can't tell you how many times people have stolen our soap pumps out of the bathrooms. These are all things you have to put up with when you own a business that serves the public. But when you start nickel-and-diming people to death (gee, $1.50 for the coffee, plus 2 Sweet-and-Lows at 10 cents each... your total is $1.84 with tax), people get irritated and don't come back. And that's how people feel when you charge them six bucks an hour to surf the web.
  • by vertinox (846076) on Friday July 29, 2005 @04:18PM (#13197992)
    Seriously, I'd like an Internet Bar where I can bring my laptop and then drink alcoholic beverages. C'mon guys... Hurry up with the idea! I'm tired of having to bring my vodka flask to coffee shop.

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