Reading this slashdotted piece on how free wifi is advancing in Estonia made me think deep once again. Why the hell free wifi hasn’t become popular outside northern California … and Estonia?
The point is that wifi is not a business case. I figured this out in early 2001 when I was living and testing the first hotspots in San Francisco Bay Area. Go any coffee shop in the states and you’re most probably online. Many places are free. Starbucks via T-Mobile is one of the most expensive – around 5 euros for an hour or something like 30 per month. Typically you’d go for 20 per month.
In Finland, the mobile internet has been since 1995 or something the GSM (or GPRS for the name’s sake) modem speed. It’s a big joke. Because people don’t experience wireless net they don’t get it. If you haven’t ever watched TV you don’t need it.
Occasional free wifi in a city is a totally different experience from the current closed airport and hotel hotspots. I remember when I returned from California in the late 2001 with my wifi card installed. I found out the biggest operators had started wifi tests. I call them: in order to use any of them I’d have needed to subscribe something like hundred accounts to my big company. The situation hasn’t changed ever since! When do they get that wifi is first and foremost consumer technology?
Finally, my 5 cents. I tried to push free wifi in Finland to EFFI’s agenda in fall 2003. Unfortunately the whole idea has been somehow frozen to a draft stage. Maybe people aren’t interested in wifi after all?