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Free Wi-Fi for Business

As a ‘civilised’ western society, there are certain measures that we put in place to represent our civilisation. We pursue a work ethic that entails the pain of endless meetings, the suffering of corporate politics and the general indignity of the daily commute. And throughout the grind of our civilised existence, we placate ourselves with an insatiable consumption of and for technology. Tech has become the Novocaine of the civilised masses.

Everyone has a computer. Apart from the peasants, and naturally, in a civilised society, we don’t count the plebs. Almost everyone has a smartphone. An alarming number have a second smartphone because, well, actually, I don’t know why anyone would need a second mobile phone – presumably because they have more than one pocket. And in more recent times we have extended our societal civility into further portable technological advancements. The ‘app’ culture has arrived.  We have the iPad (two of them), Kindle e-readers and a stampede of me-too tablet lookee likees that entice us to appear on the cutting edge of society. Or perhaps we just look like twats with our iPads on the train? Either way, our ‘always on’ society demands that we accessorise accordingly.

Regrettably, this utopian techno-society is never going to work. Not, at least, with the shit wi-fi infrastructure we have in the UK. I have travelled the world and I am here to report that the very crux of our civilisation now relies, almost exclusively, on the availability of wi-fi. I can be even more specific. For western civilisation to avoid the calamitous fate of previously dominant societies including the Romans, the Egyptians and the Incas (and let’s remember, none of them were technophobes) wi-fi needs not only to be available, it needs to be free.

In the UK, we buy our data plans from our mobile service provider, we enable data roaming and we tweet, facebook, email and surf for the full 30 minutes or so per day that our batteries will allow. We then spend the rest of the day seeking outlets to fleetingly top-up our batteries. “Good morning Madam, I appreciate we’ve never met, but I was just passing and wondered if I could plug my phone in for a few minutes…?” It’s not really very civilised.

Switching off the ‘data roaming’ functionality on your phone and using available wi-fi hotspots undoubtedly prolongs battery life (thereby extending the pain, suffering and indignity) while keeping your phone switched on leaves you at the mercy of the service providers roaming charges. On my last sortie into the European wilderness, the roaming charges were enough to make me weep. I’m welling up again just thinking about it. There are only about 3 free wi-fi hotspots in Europe, and they’re all in Starbucks. That’s it. After that, if you want to conserve energy and avoid paying hefty charges, you have to switch off your mobile device. Not the ideal solution, for a civilised society.

In the US it’s different. I’ve just returned from America (LA baby) and having learnt my lesson in Europe, I had my roaming switched off the entire time. I expected to be blissfully incommunicado for the entire trip. Imagine my surprise when I discovered free wi-fi on almost every street corner. Here are just a few examples of where I raised an eyebrow at the free accessibility of the internet: every coffee shop, supermarkets, retail stores, every hotel, restaurants, the airport, the car rental office… even the beach. The important point is that the wi-fi access was free.

The US has reached a tipping point where digital access is simply expected and delivered. In the UK, it is possible to find free wi-fi access (there’s an app for that…) but it’s a struggle. It’s a small detail perhaps, but in my mind, our lack of infrastructure (without punitive charges) is illustrative of our wider inability to grasp the demand for and need to provide digital services for the digital economy. Wouldn’t business be so much easier and efficient if we could actually use the technology that we’re so attached to?

So I’ve taken the encryption off my home hub. When you come over to my house from now on, you’re connected. Well, it’s a start.

Scot McKee
Managing Director
Birddog Ltd.
+44 (0)20 7323 6666
twitter: @ScotMcKee