Free Wifi? Believe it or not, a world with free internet access was something Steve Jobs dreamed of. It’s not how you might imagine it – some utopian dreamscape where Time Warner Cable, Comcast and Direct TV all decide to play nice and pass out free routers like they’re throwing beads at a parade. Instead, in 2007, with the release of the first iPhone, Jobs envisioned a world where people walking down the street might use their iDevice to check their email or make a phone call – without having to connect to a data tower. Ideally, it would work like the guest networks some wifi users have installed today. There would be internet access, separate to the main account where personal data is stored, with limited bandwidth. It sounds probable – if your personal data and documents are separate, and all you’re doing is allowing a passerby to log onto instagram – what’s the harm?
For one, Americans aren’t convinced that this plan would work free of free-loaders. Sure, the majority of people connecting with your guest network may only pause to check movie times and then move on, but we all know that one neighbor who refuses to pay for wifi and instead gets online while squished against far walls in his house that are nearest to your router. And until we develop a new branch of law enforcement deemed “The Internet Police,” I don’t think many will be on board. Currently, only about 15-20% of internet subscribers have guest networks set up.
Still, it makes for some interesting commentary. What would it mean for us if open access to internet became the norm? Would you do it? What would it mean for Mcommerce? Mobile sales are on the rise, with an estimated $204 billion spent from shopping via phone in 2014. If shoppers could safely (and quickly) access shopping carts from truly anywhere, without having to worry about the delays associated with trying to connect to a nearby data tower, would this number rise even more?
I think we’re still some years from Jobs’ dream of a world where we willingly open our guest networks and share our prized wifi commodity, but we may be heading there. In the meantime, I like my wifi passcode to stay in line with the old saying – you break it, you buy it.
Mossberg, Walt. “It’s Time for Open, Shared Home Wi-Fi.” Recode. CNBC, 5 Aug. 2014. Web. 12 Aug. 2014.