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AirTight lets Australian shoppers trade details for free Wi-Fi

The opening of an Australian office by 'social Wi-Fi' vendor AirTight Networks will allow local retailers to harvest social-media details provided by customers in exchange for free, fast Wi-Fi access.
Written by David Braue, Contributor

The Australian debut of 'social Wi-Fi' vendor AirTight Networks means local retailers now have access to a customer retention and marketing platform that encourages customers to exchange personal details in exchange for free Wi-Fi access.

That platform, which is already in use in the US by the likes of Taco Bell, KFC and Pizza Hut franchisee Yum! Brands, is designed to help retailers monetise the experience of providing Wi-Fi to customers, regional manager Carl Jefferys told ZDNet Australia on the opening of the company's local office.

Analysing social-media details could help Australian retailers offset the cost of free Wi-Fi. Image: CC BY-SA 2.0 Ian Muttoo

“Many retailers feel the need to offer Wi-Fi to their guests because they feel obliged to do so, or they think it's going to attract more users,” he explained. “But not many people wish to pay for public Wi-Fi.”

That created a challenge for retailers, who needed to carefully manage public Wi-Fi services to ensure authentication, security and data usage didn't increase costs disproportionately.

“The people who want to provide their services to clients have previously seen Wi-Fi as a cost centre," Jeffreys explained, "but with the benefits of analytics and location-based services, the marketing people can use this to build Wi-Fi into being a profit centre rather than a cost centre.”

Customers can use their existing Facebook, Google, Google Plus or LinkedIn credentials –or be enticed to download a store-built mobile app that bundles access to free Wi-Fi services.

Multiple Wi-Fi hotspots can be managed remotely through a cloud service, ensuring costs are kept as low as possible. In exchange, retailers are given detailed analytics about which users have visited their stores, and what sort of offers they might respond to.

“If retailers allow clients to log on via social services, they opt in and agree to handing over their Facebook or other profile to the retailer,” Jefferys said.

“This lets them do really nice things with targeted marketing, analytics campaigns and other things that come from having this data.”

The information can even be used to tailor the retail environment: for example, if there is an influx of students after school finishes, the platform might let the retailer play age-appropriate background music to encourage the customers to stay in the store a bit longer.

Although he declined to name existing local customers, Jefferys said “some very prestigious financial institutions and insurance companies” were interested in the platform and were considering some “quite unique social applications on top of that.”

AirTight grew out of specialised research into Wi-Fi a decade ago, with systems used in high-security installations around the world. Its expanding scope into consumer Wi-Fi, however, reflects a push to broaden its business and tap into the growing demand for Wi-Fi offload services that help customers avoid massive mobile data bills.

Jefferys believes pairing Wi-Fi access with social-media credentials will accelerate the use of public Wi-Fi in Australia, although it is just one of numerous service models telcos are exploring in the effort to shunt data traffic off of their straining mobile networks.

Last year, German telecommunications giant Deutsche Telekom struck a deal with crowdsourced Wi-Fi provider FON to support its data offloading efforts.

Recent Juniper Networks research argued that 60 percent of data traffic would be offloaded onto Wi-Fi services by 2017, although some argue that a lack of telco competitiveness had meant it would be slower to take off in Australia.

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