Sky-high wi-fi must die

Tech writer Kieren McCarthy’s posted a typically angry rant about the insane cost of wi-fi access points, and he’s hit the nail on the head: how on earth can firms justify hotspot access charges of £6 per hour when you can have 24/7 broadband in your house for less than £20 per month?

At £6 an hour, the real cost of Net access (and just for one person) is a staggering £4,500 a month.

I’m in the rather ridiculous situation of having never, ever, ever used a wi-fi hotspot when I’m out and about, despite having a wi-fi enabled phone. I’m buggered if I’m paying six quid to check my email.

It’s particularly galling when you look at what, say, a BT Openzone hotspot actually costs to run. If you go for openzone in a box, you pay £200 to share your broadband connection – which only has to be a 512Kbps connection. Even businesses – who pay more for broadband than mere mortals – won’t pay much more than £20 per month for that kind of connection. Where they’re getting stiffed is on the vouchers, of which they only get to keep 25% (according to the BT openzone site, anyway).

Kieren’s right. We’re being screwed.

8 thoughts on “Sky-high wi-fi must die

  1. Stephen says:

    Well, I suppose competitors could in theory offer lower charges and pay the store more; the market should sort it out. But I suspect the situation is a complex one. For example, I used a hotspot at a shopping centre in Johannesburg when visiting my parents last December; as they don’t have broadband, and I needed to upload some large files, the few quid for an hour’s access seemed reasonable. I sat in a coffee shop which was owned and run by a former business associate of my father’s, and we chatted a bit about wifi. It turned out that he didn’t get any money from it: the access was provided by the shopping centre, and they kept all the revenue. He hated the entire thing: his business depends on turning over tables as quickly as possible, the last thing he wants is some twit to come in at lunchtime, order a single cup, and then take up a table for a whole hour while he surfs the web.

    Interestingly, while waiting for my plane at Heathrow I discovered there were two wifi networks available. The one I chose was considerably cheaper than the BT Openworld alternative.

  2. Gary says:

    Yeah, I fully understand the cafe conundrum – but how is it different from someone bringing a pile of newspapers, or a book, or a laptop that they’re going to play Solitare on for an hour? The wi-fi isn’t the villain; it’s people with time to spare. If they couldn’t get online they’d just spend their hour staring alarmingly at people :)

    > suppose competitors could in theory offer lower charges and pay the store more

    I’m not sure there’s room in the market for a competitor – it’s pretty much BT Openzone, The Cloud and T-Mobile in the UK, isn’t it? Taking on that trio would require seriously deep pockets just to get going in the first place. I’m sure you could set up a network in any one busy place, such as an airport, but to get uk-wide coverage you’d need some sort of roaming agreement with the other three operators, which means paying whatever rates they’ve decided to charge.

  3. Tony Kiernan says:

    Apparently Glasgow City Council have a policy for moving all their mobile devices over to wifi. No matter how much I mention this to the boss, I can still only access the web from my pda while it’s attached to my computer at my desk – on a very short cable.

    What’s my point? Who knows, but I’d like to be able to use the damn thing rounds that Merchant City hotspot.

  4. Squander Two says:

    > I’m sure you could set up a network in any one busy place, such as an airport, but to get uk-wide coverage …

    Why would you need to? Why not just set up a network in one busy place? For instance, if you run a cafe, why not make extra money by setting up a network there? You don’t need to go nationwide for that to be viable.

  5. david says:

    I’ve been in a few pubs around leeds that just have a linksys router on the wall with free open access. Never had a wifi device at the time mind you.

  6. Gary says:

    > For instance, if you run a cafe, why not make extra money by setting up a network there? You don’t need to go nationwide for that to be viable.

    True, although I think many people think it’s very difficult. That’s the selling point of the openzone thing – we’ll do the tech stuff for you, take care of passwords etc. Would the average cafe owner want to spend time sorting out passwords and other authentication? If they didn’t, they’d essentially be giving away wifi not just to their customers, but to people next door and in the street…

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