As someone said: If you’re not paying for a product, your ARE the product. This is truer than ever – especially in the Wi-Fi world where we’re all trying to crack the challenge of how to monetize free Wi-Fi with ads, location technology, and consumer engagement.
And free Wi-Fi is to say the least on a roll. In the US it’s practically everywhere except perhaps on the highway – and I’m sure someone is right now trying to figure out how to get it there, too. So our private lives are being productized and there’s nothing wrong with that as long as consumers can opt in or opt out. Most of us opt in in return for free.
Meanwhile, a lot of mobile operators are under pressure. The big adversary here is FREE – free Wi-Fi, pretty much everywhere. Zero’s a price that’s hard to beat. Is there a limit to consumers’ readiness to become products? I think eventually, yes.
This is probably ahead of the curve but here are a couple of things that I think we will see in coming years:
Security: It’s the huge issue that consumers for the time being seem to care little about. A lot of public Wi-Fi networks are blue oceans of opportunity for data criminals big and small. It’s not that they can’t be protected – it’s just that very few bother to do it. Carriers are in an excellent position to make sure that Wi-Fi access is secure. But it does require that consumers start caring about it.
Privacy: This one is probably bigger. Are consumers ready to pay for NOT being productized? The more marketing we get thrown at us, the faster the need will arise for NOT having stuff thrown at us. Just imagine being an anonymous consumer. It’s nearly a foreign concept these days with every website and banner ad knowing your every personal preference.
So is there are real service opportunity here? I think there probably is. But as anything in telecoms, it’s a complex issue. Anyone controlling wireless (or wired) access on a large scale would be well positioned to start making plans to address this market. Probably some are already hatching their plans.