Posts Tagged ‘WiFi’

Facebook + Apple: Masters of the Location Universe?

November 4th, 2010

Yesterday, Facebook along with more than 20 retail partners, including Gap, H&M, Lululemon, McDonalds’s, Starbucks and the San Francisco 49ers, announced a Facebook Deals component to augment their Places location-based service.

The move could bring a slew of new local and small business advertisers to the social network.  With more than 500 million users already, Deals could be the driver that brings location-based services to the masses.  And it’s needed – a study, also released yesterday by Pew Research indicates that only 4% of online adults use a location service like Foursquare or Gowalla.

The Deals service lets merchants push deals to their existing customers and attract new ones, according to Tim Kendall, Facebook’s director of monetization.

When users launch Facebook Places, they will see a listing of nearby venues, some which will have special icons indicating deals. They can pull up the deal, and with two clicks, they can claim it. When they go to the store or restaurant later, they can show the staff their Facebook app to redeem the deal.

The most interesting part of this announcement is that Facebook isn’t taking a cut of revenue for these discounts, posing a challenge to smaller competitors that use deal revenue as part of their business model. On a business’ Places page, they can set up an offer. There are four kinds:

  • Individual deals, which reward a customer if they check-in once.
  • Loyalty deals, which reward customers for a certain number of purchases or check-ins.
  • Friend deals, which reward customers if they bring in extra friends.
  • Charity deals, which allow businesses to donate to charity for every check-in they attract.

The Deals announcement is not however without speculation towards the future.

When Facebook called this press conference, much of the speculation was that they were going to announce their own phone – as referenced by TechCrunch in September.   That didn’t happen.  Instead, it appears that Apple and Facebook are getting closer and closer.

Could Apple be looking to buy Facebook?

Imagine if Facebook users suddenly all had iTunes and FaceTime accounts, giving Apple unquestioned dominance in online music and video chat. Apple and Facebook aren’t currently competing in any realm, but both are competing with Google, and there’s no love lost between Apple and Google.

Additionally, there’s significant synergy. The Facebook app for iPhone has been estimated to be one of the most used apps on the iPhone, with over 100 million active monthly users. One source, David Kirkpatrick, author of The Facebook Effect, claims that more than half of all usage of the iPhone of apps, other than those provided by the phone itself like telephony and email, is coming from Facebook.”

Apple has some $51 Billion in the bank meaning that they could afford to buy the social networking giant when it goes public.

Steve Jobs on a recent earnings call said “We strongly believe that one or more very strategic opportunities may come along, that we are in a unique position to take advantage of because of our strong cash position…And so I think that we’d like to continue to keep our powder dry, because we do feel that there are one or more strategic opportunities in the future. That’s the biggest reason.”

Perhaps the most important synergy is in the area of patents.  Facebook has been thinking about location for years and was recently granted a wide-reaching patent that could wipe newcomers off the social networking map.

Bnet, which broke the story, says the patent covers “a method of sharing locations of users participating in a social networking service at a geographic location” and the location is found using a “GPS Identifier”.

Similarly, Apple is hot on the patent bandwagon, in particular around NFC and location-based advertising.

Their recent patent application for “System and method for providing contextual advertisements according to dynamic pricing scheme” indicates.

Apple describes a mobile ad system that will work on your iPhone, iPod or iPad, and provide ads based on various direct or indirect marketing preferences through a “Local ad” app.  The owner of the network you are connected to at the time serves the ads.

A shopping mall owner, airport operator, or anyone else, providing Wi-Fi access, can serve ads from local merchants; wireless carrier can offer local ads, triggered by a location data from a base station or your GPS sensor, and search keywords you just entered in a search app, etc.

The combination of these two companies could indeed make them masters of the location-based universe.

Canadian Airports Missing The Boat On Free WiFi

August 17th, 2010

By now you all know that I’m a big supporter of Free WiFi.  I believe it should be everywhere – coffee shops, restaurant chains, hotels, stadiums and of course in our airports.

The problem, has always been in trying to get the big brands and media buyers to embrace the notion of sponsored WiFi.

Well, it seems that it’s finally taking shape.

Toronto’s Pearson International Airport started offering free web access to travelers wherever they are in the airport on August 1st.  The announcement follows on other recent changes by Edmonton, Ottawa, and Calgary all in the last six months.

Pearson is on a six-month sponsorship agreement with Roger’s, said Sergio Pulla, Manager, Product Strategy Marketing and Commercial Development at the GTAA

He would not disclose the amount of the contract, but did say that the infrastructure is still provided by Boingo, and that the airport is paying Boingo a fixed monthly fee for management of the equipment and customer service.

For their part Roger’s gets exposure on the login page as well as in-terminal communications including signage, floor stickers, and logo-placement in the Flight Information Display system.

The real missed opportunity for Roger’s and other potential sponsors here is the lack of any tie-in to location-based services.  WiFi is inherently a location-based service.

Where are the coupons, offers and discounts for logging onto the network?  With a whole slew of retailers and food service providers in the airport, the GTAA and others’ are missing the boat on revenue sharing by partnering with companies like Foursquare and Gowalla.

Sponsors care about metrics and the only real way to drive the numbers, and ultimately more sponsorship is through incentive. There were about five-million paid WiFi users at the airport in 2009, among 30.4-million passengers.

Free by itself is not enough, especially when a large percentage of business travelers already have company-paid data plans for their Blackberry and iPhones.

Recent global airport studies have pegged mobile WiFi usage at almost 48% vs. laptop connections.

As our airports and restaurant chains begin to seek sponsors to pay for free WiFi networks, perhaps they should be thinking bigger.  Consumers like free, but consumers really want relevant content and offers – see Starbucks recent free WiFi and Digital Content Network announcement.

In a conversation with Federica Nazanni – GM for Windsor International Airport, I learned that they are still on the old paid WiFi system with Boingo.  The problem as Federica put it “is we want to go free, but as a feeder airport to Toronto, we aren’t able to attract the national sponsors like them.”

She also agrees that success for them will come from increasing the value of the sponsorship package through location-based ties-ins to retailers and targeted signage opportunities.

Sponsorship is definitely the way to go, but real success will come through partnership with media companies, publishers, retailers and others.

Is WiFi A Scarce Resource?

July 8th, 2010

Can you picture a world with no WiFi?

If you’re in the US or Europe, probably not, in fact there’s a good chance you’re in a coffee shop or somewhere else right now reading this while connected to a WiFi hotspot.  If you’re Canada it’s easier to imagine because other than Starbucks and Second Cup there really isn’t any WiFi.

So what would a world without WiFi look like?  Is there a problem looming on the horizon?  According to Cisco Systems, we may be in for a WiFi shortage.  You see the number of WiFi-enabled devices is growing rapidly (580 million shipped in 2009) and the spectrum available for WiFi broadcast is finite.

When it comes to devices, we know all about the smartphones, iPads, and laptops roaming around everywhere these days, but add to that digital cameras, photo frames, televisions, gaming platforms and the rest, and the demand is staggering.  It’s a rare coffee shop that doesn’t buzz with WiFi activity at all hours of the day and night. Now that Starbucks, will bring free WiFi to all locations in North America, the spectrum will be taxed even more.

Cisco, a major player in the hardware-side of the WiFi business, says smartphones use 30 times as much data as regular phones.  That’s a lot of browsing, video watching, shopping, and stock checking.  And with 1.7 million next-gen iPhones alone selling before the end of June, your favorite hotspot is swarming with even more WiFi usage than before.

You need look no further than the 1100 people in attendance for the WWDC conference at the Moscone centre where Apple CEO Steve Jobs himself couldn’t get a WiFi connection to show off his company’s latest version of the iPhone.

We’ve all had those moments, where the demand far outstrips the supply of WiFi and we get a spotty or slow or even no connection at all.  Are we using too much of the available spectrum?  Can WiFi grow to fit our gadget-loving needs?  We’re certainly going to buy more devices, but unless we increase the amount of WiFi out there, we’re all in for more Jobs-like moments in the future.

It’s not just about the proliferation of devices, but also the type of content and the amount of data being consumed on the network.  In particular, Video and location-based services like Foursquare are exploding.

Mobile TV over WiFi could be a big deal, according to a report by Juniper Research, TV over WiFi traffic could increase 25 times between now and 2015 with revenues in the $7 billion range.

It’s expected as this happens that cellular operators will turn to WiFi to offload more traffic from the already taxed 3G/4G networks.

“Cellular networks are finding it increasingly difficult to deliver high quality mobile TV services at times of peak usage: thus, the World Cup has posed particular problems with large spikes in viewing figures”, says the report’s author Dr Windsor Holden, “WiFi can ameliorate this in the short term, but this is only a partial remedy.”

A white paper exploring the changing mobile TV landscape, ‘Tuning in to Mobile TV’ is available to download from Juniper’s website.

So with more devices and more traffic on the networks, how do we solve the problem?

One interesting development that can help alleviate some of the congestion is an announcement two weeks ago by President Obama. He signed a memorandum committing the government to provide 500 MHz worth of new broadband to ease the use of electronic equipment ranging from cell phones to laptop computers.

“America’s future competitiveness and global technology leadership depend, in part, upon the availability of additional spectrum,” Obama wrote in the memorandum. “The world is going wireless, and we must not fall behind.”

Under the plan, the government will begin identifying specific sources of the new spectrum; they will come from both the public and private sectors, including television broadcast and mobile satellite facilities

The primary source of this new spectrum will actually come from what is referred to as “white spaces” this is spectrum that has already been allocated to the radio and television broadcast sector, but is not used locally.   In fact the mandated move to digital television freed up large areas between 50 MHz and 700 MHz.

The bottom line is governments need to work with the private sector to open up more spectrum on all fronts – WiFi, 3G/4G, LTE, White Spaces, etc.  The consumer demand is already there and growing rapidly.  In doing so however, we need to also give consideration to the proper balance of free and paid connectivity sources.  The availability of broadband for all is still a must!

So, as we move to create more capacity, let’s do so in a way that serves all facets of our socio-economic global community.

Why Media & Entertainment Companies Need LBS

June 14th, 2010

As I sit at the beautiful Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel attending the NextMedia/Banff World Television Festival, I can’t help but think about the huge opportunity in front of media and entertainment companies when it comes to location-based services.

Already, we are seeing early signs of deals with companies like MyTown, FourSquare and GoWalla.

The Travel Channel has found early success with its MyTown application to the tune of 17 million check-ins in one month, while FourSquare has struck partnerships with media companies such as HBO, Warner Brothers, MTV and Bravo.

And the phenomenon is not limited to just television,

Concert promoters are jumping on board as well, as events such as Bonnaroo, Coachella and Lollapalooza are all using mobile apps to enhance the concert experience for attendees as part of a broader new-media push that also includes social media, LBS and other broad Internet initiatives to co-exist.

Many of these apps are also integrated with Twitter and Facebook.  In the music business, it’s all about improving the fan experience while at the event, and then finding ways to extend the experience into an ongoing relationship long after the event or concert is over.

At the recent forum hosted by Future of Local Media during Internet Week NY, several questions around the concept of the value of geo-location and LBS were explored.

Ian Spalter, Executive Creative Director of Mobile & Emerging Platforms at R/GA, believes that this opportunity forces brands to consider not only how they are relevant to a consumer’s life, but also when and where they are relevant.  Mark Ghuneim, CEO of WiredSet/Trendrr, encourages brands to enable an experience for a customer.  The value to the marketer is the emergence of the real-place web.  Whereas the real-time web gave marketers an understanding of how consumers interacted online, the real-place web offers an understanding of how people live their lives on the move.

So, how do media and entertainment companies leverage the real-place web to reach consumers? Well, I see two immediate possibilities.

The first is to trade sponsorship of Free WiFi or some other value-add in-venue service, for consumer input on everything from pilot episodes, to ad campaigns, to television commercials.  In other words, no need to bring the focus group in and feed them Smarties and popcorn.  Push the focus group out to the public and crowdsource the answers in exchange for something they want, in the place they’re already at.

The second is to go further down the road of gaming and/or product integration. This time however, we change the venue from the home to the place people are at – while out of home.

Several television shows have attempted over the last few years to engage fans on both the digital and broadcast channels simultaneously.   A recent example is the relationship between NBC’s Chuck and Subway.

When the show sat on the bubble for renewal, engaged fans stepped up through the show’s Fansite, Facebook and Twitter, asking them to buy a $5 dollar foot-long sub during the finale episode.

At one point, The Hollywood Reporter called Chuck the “most discussed bubble show online”

It worked, and the show was renewed with further support from Subway and others.

But, what if the drive to renew the show actually happened based on check-ins and/or mobile couponing at actual Subway stores?  The value to the advertiser would have likely been enormous in getting people to their stores and of course in driving incremental sales.

As a final thought, I come home to a Canadian icon in Tim Horton’s.  Now here is a company that is focused on one brand and one brand only – their own.  So how can a media company use the largest chain in Canada to connect with patrons of Tim Horton’s?

Give them what they already have.  On any given day, you can walk into a coffee shop and find copies of the Globe and Mail, National Post, Toronto Star, and the like all over the tables.  So why not embrace that?  Why not reward the natural synergy between a newspaper and our morning coffee, with free at home delivery subscriptions based on the number of check-ins at a coffee shop or gas station?

The opportunities for media and entertainment companies are limitless.  The real place web is here and together as consumers, technology providers, content producers and distributors, we must find ways to cross platforms and work together to embrace the power of LBS in engaging people at the right place in the right time.

WiFi & LBS Renew Privacy Pandemonium

June 1st, 2010

In light of the recent Google WiFi debacle, those of you new to the world of WiFi & LBS might have a few questions regarding this technology and the security of your personal information.

Let’s start with a quick recap.  On May 8th, the German data protection agency asked Google to audit the WiFi data they collect for use in products such as Google Maps.  We subsequently learned, by Google’s own admission, that they had been collecting everything from SSID names to MAC addresses and even some payload data (information for users sessions while connected to the network).

This has produced not only a stiff response from global governments, but also several class action lawsuits.  One such lawsuit in the US suggests that Google could end up paying $10,000 for each privacy violation, and they have even engaged the FTC to conduct a formal investigation into the consumer implications.

So what does this mean for consumers of WiFi, Facebook and Foursquare?

One of the most common concerns about Foursquare relates to user privacy. Surely, if you’re checking in everywhere you go, every day, you’re opening yourself up to some fairly significant privacy risks. More specifically, you’re handing over your location information to potential stalkers.

So the key to reducing the privacy-risks associated with using Foursquare is to set a privacy-strategy. In other words, properly manage who has access to your location information, and don’t check in everywhere you go.

Specifically, I recommend that you should only accept as friends on Foursquare those people that you are absolutely comfortable with knowing your location.

We already know that Facebook, too, has had its share of privacy concerns, leading to last week’s simplification of their privacy policy.  Canada’s 12 million Facebook users should be proud to have a watchdog like the privacy commission pushing Facebook to fall in line with our PIPEDA rules.

We can only anticipate that this will be tested even further as Facebook begins to embrace the location-aware features I’ve recently discussed.

And what about unsecured, public WiFi?  Should you connect? What are the risks?  The risks are great that both your personal information and session data may be compromised, but it soon may not matter.

Increasingly, governments are coming out hard against free or unsecured WiFi.  In Germany, you can be fined up to €100 if you don’t password-protect your network.

The UK has recently approved a Digital Economy Bill.  Under the proposed new regime, WiFi users will choose between two options: either you’re essentially an ISP, in which case you’ll need to become a copyright cop and police the connections of anyone using your network at great expense, or you’re not an ISP, in which case you’re responsible for any malicious use of the network, and subject to fines and lawsuits.

Does this mean the end of free public WiFi?  I think not – just the end to unsecured WiFi.  What it really means is that venues will find ways to work with ISPs, and that ISPs will find ways to build the cost of policing their networks into the mix.  Subsidization of such networks will come from the same brands and advertisers that ultimately want to reach the same consumer that wants free WiFi today.

Of course they can always opt out, but the cost for free, yet “secured” WiFi in the future will be to watch an ad, complete a survey, or disclose your location.

As consumers we are very simple-minded.  We want the notion of privacy, but most of us will never really take the time to change and fiddle with the settings – we’d rather just connect and maybe get something for free.

LBS: At The Intersection of Brands & Consumers

May 20th, 2010

We’ve heard a lot over the last few months about the explosion of location-based services (LBS). From Foursquare and Gowalla to the lesser known Loopt and BrightKite, agencies, media buyers and brands are all trying to understand how to best use them.  And now the behemoth – Facebook has entered the fray!

With over 100 million active mobile users, Facebook appears to be on the way to building a mobile ad network.

We recently learned that McDonald’s, as an article in AdAge indicates, is building an app with Facebook that would allow users to check in at one of its restaurants and have a featured product appear in the post, such as an Angus Quarter Pounder.  Enough check-ins and you may qualify for a free burger or fries!

My question, is why not tie this into the free nation-wide WiFi they recently announced?  They could even allow users to authenticate onto the WiFi network using Facebook Connect.

This is just one example of how the concept of “checking-in” at a specific location is starting to be rewarded or converted to a loyalty program.

Pepsico recently announced preliminary plans around a Foursqaure program. The basic idea is that they want to sell their products to customers when they are near a grocery store, restaurant or gas station.

The system provides live information about when and where people are shopping and their proximity to a retail partner that carries Pepsi’s products.  When a Foursquare user is near a Pepsi retailer, an offer to enroll that person in a Pepsi rewards system will appear. Once enrolled, whenever they check in at a retailer selling Pepsi product they will accumulate rewards points or badges to later redeem for product or offers or donate to charity.

For brands like Pepsi that typically rely heavily on their retail partners to drive product sales, they now have a way to engage directly with the consumer.

So how big is this market anyway?

A recent study by Juniper Research says that nearly 1.5 billion people will be using LBS by 2014, with a global market worth $12.7bn worldwide.

Will consumers be receptive to offers from these brands?  The answer appears to be turning favourable.

Mobile audience media company JiWire’s Q1 2010 collected data from 2000 users across 289,000 US wi-fi locations, finding that 53% of users would be happy to share their current location on a mobile device to receive relevant advertising.  Two-thirds of those surveyed also said that they frequently use apps on their smartphones that require them to set a location in order to receive other content, and 76% of those users are leaning much closer towards ad-supported free apps rather than paid-for services.

So, the message for brands is simple – LBS are here now, and growing quickly.  If you’re seeking ways to engage directly with consumers, be it though an app or a service, get with your agency and figure out a strategy for your company today.

Spring Brings New Purpose

May 13th, 2010

It’s been some time since my last blog posting and a great deal has changed since then.  First of all I am no longer with Vex Canada.  I have decided to share my knowledge of WiFi, advertising and location-based services on a full-time basis with the broader community.

To this end, I will now be blogging weekly on these subjects, speaking at conferences, briefing agencies and conducting market research.

I look forward to engaging with as many people as possible, so if you’re seeking answers to burning questions on any of these topics feel free to contact me and we’ll start the dialogue.



WiFi Is On The Move

July 27th, 2009

In today’s society, the amount of time we spend offline is often only limited by our choice of mobile device and our physical location. There are fewer and fewer places where Internet access is not available making our ability to be online virtually always.

Recently we have seen an increase in WiFi hotspots that travel, literally. Airplanes, trains and buses, are allowing us to be connected even in transit and although smartphone users are able to use the 3G network to connect to the internet, doing so while traveling is not always reliable, cost effective, or fast.

Airlines are increasing the number or airplanes with in-flight WiFi.  After a few airlines tested the service with success, many have decided to add this feature to the list of amenities.  Delta has completed upgrades on 171 airplanes of their over 300 fleet. This paid service has become popular for the business traveler who wants to keep on top of email, Facebook and Twitter, while moving between cities.

Buses with WiFi are also becoming more common. Neon, a subsidiary of Greyhound, offers WiFi enabled bus trips between Toronto, Buffalo and New York. These buses also have electrical outlets, so you can take advantage of the Internet the whole trip.  The City of Moncton, New Brunswick offers WiFi on their entire public transit bus fleet. Their partnership with Codiac Transit has made this service the first available in Canada.

In Europe trains are very common mode of transportation, so it is no surprise that WiFi on trains is more widely available there then it is in North America. Canada’s Via Rail offers this paid service but many users have commented on the poor quality and lack of reliability.

And if traveling in large groups is not your preference you can equip your car with WiFi. Autonet is an in car device that turns the 3G network into a WiFi hotspot. This device is currently available through and has a monthly subscription fee of $29 US

The bottomline is this…no matter where you are in the air, at sea (cruise ships are into this too), on a train, bus or even in your own car, it seems that WiFi is becoming a mainstream tool for Internet connectivity.

The Age of Smartphone WiFi

July 13th, 2009

Starbucks is one of the first places people think of at the mention of the word WiFi. The classic combination of WiFi and coffee however, is no longer the only place to get wirelessly connected since WiFi hotspots are evolving rapidly. The driving force in WiFi is the trend in mobile device technology to include WiFi chipsets.

Last week Sprint Nextel announced that a new version of the Research In Motion BlackBerry Tour 9630 will be released next year to support WiFi, as Sprint expects consumers to keep craving mobile devices capable of accessing the Internet.  As major U.S. wireless carriers continue to roll out new smartphones, the lack of WiFi in many new smartphones has left both users and carriers frustrated.

“It is now a requirement for all our PDA equipment suppliers to include Wi-Fi,” Jeff Clemow, Sprint director of business product marketing, noted in an interview with Fierce Wireless.

A recent ABI Research reports suggests that 141 million WiFi enabled smartphones will be shipped in 2009.

Many Smartphone users connect to WiFi to download new emails instead of using the bandwidth from their data plans, the gen X and Y’s are using WiFi to update their Twitter and Facebook status.

Will the future of hotspots evolve or is it constricted to cafes, restaurants and hotels?  Providing WiFi adds value for customers of these traditional WiFi hotspot venues, choosing the restaurant for a business meeting or a hotel to stay in can be partially decided by the availability of WiFi Internet service. A Reuters poll found that “47 percent of travelers make sure a hotel caters to their technology needs before they book it.”

And the shift to WiFi-enabled smartphones is changing the way other venues consider WiFi as well.  Sports complexes, like Ivor Wynne stadium and shopping malls are expanding coverage to the entire building instead of just the food courts. The portability of devices with WiFi connectivity is increasing the demand for hotspots.

It seems people want to stay connected wherever they go.  So should they have to pay every time they enter a new hotspot? I personally think not – especially in North America.  Hotels have already ready begun to hide the fee in room charges and many airports in Canada and US now have free WiFi.

Consumers are demanding free WiFi in Canada and I for one look forward to seeing the carriers and other wireless ISPs respond to this need.

Welcome to “In the Air Tonight”

July 6th, 2009

Welcome to “In the Air Tonight” – an online destination for all things WiFi.  I am Asif Khan, a Toronto-based technology entrepreneur and connoisseur of all that amounts from the intersection of business, advertising and technology.

My latest venture is the launch of the Canadian arm of a global WiFi company called Vex.  At Vex Canada we envision a nation where WiFi is Free and Everywhere.

There is a shift coming.  That is the shift from laptop only WiFi locations, to the WiFi enabled smartphone.  Every new device on the market, from the iPhone, to the Palm Pre all have built in WiFi, but finding a free connection in Canada is not always easy.  WiFi should truly be everywhere, from the grocery store, to the hockey rink, to the gas station.

We’re hoping that over the next year we can truly create a blogspace where you can come to learn more about WiFi.  Where you can engage in discussion about WiFi in Canada and abroad, and where we together can help shape the future of WiFi in Canada.

One final thought: Our national anthem contains the words “True North, Strong and Free.”   Perhaps we could consider a new take on WiFi in Canada as follows: Canada (True North), (Strong) WiFi connections, (Free) for all!