ITEM: Facebook is getting into the free Wi-Fi business – albeit on a small scale, and mostly for experimental purposes rather than a direct attempt to compete in the Wi-Fi space.
Facebook says that it’s “running a small test with a few local businesses” for a service in which users who check in on Facebook at a business location (a café, say) can get free Wi-Fi connectivity at that location.
Facebook is supplying the router but businesses are providing the Internet access. When visitors check into a location on Facebook, they are redirected to the business’ Facebook page and can continue to browse the web for free. Page owners will be able to track how many new Likes they received from people who took advantage of this service. Visitors who don’t wish to check in can request a passcode from the local business to connect to the network anyway.
Whether Facebook expands the service depends, of course, on the results. But the business case is intriguing: participating businesses get more “likes” on Facebook, and Facebook gets more businesses creating Facebook pages, as well as more users checking in.
As such, the service isn’t targeted at Wi-Fi service providers so much as it is against the likes of FourSquare. The catch, notes Wired, is that FourSquare users rely less on Wi-Fi connectivity to update their status:
The big unanswered question, meanwhile, is whether trading Wi-Fi for check-ins can help Facebook gain a meaningful amount of ground against Foursquare, which has successfully penetrated venues like bars and white tablecloth restaurants where users aren’t particularly interested in Wi-Fi access, making do with slower cellular networks to check their email and see what their friends are up to. Will Facebook’s Wi-Fi offering end up ghettoized in some small percentage of cafés, or does it have the potential to dominate all the places people get online with their computers and devices?