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Monetising free WiFi can boost job creation and service delivery

There are ways to monetise free WiFi implementations for citizens that can benefit the users and the service provider or government department that commissioned the project.

Quentin Daffarn, MD at UC-Wireless.
Quentin Daffarn, MD at UC-Wireless.

One of the key reasons Africa tends to lag on the uptake of the benefit of the digital age has to do with high data costs and low connectivity across the continent. Although experts have identified the critical importance of Internet access as key to the enablement of education, business growth, greater employment and an improvement in GDP, many in Africa still have little to no connectivity, often as a result of location or cost to access.

In essence, suggests Quentin Daffarn, MD at UC-Wireless, providing these towns, cities and communities with free access to the Internet means that users will be in a position to stimulate their minds in ways that should spark new ideas and thus lead to improvements in living standards.

“Of course, nothing can be done for free, which is why it is so crucial today to ensure that WiFi implementations of this nature can be monetised. By making the implementation cost effective, one can provide access that is the key to improving education, uplifting communities and even reducing unemployment. This makes it clear that something as simple as monetising WiFi can have far reaching positive implications,” he says.

“A good example is that even in the most rural parts of Africa, you will likely see advertisements for major cola brands on store walls or windows. However, such an ad doesn’t ultimately give anything back to the community. Now, if free WiFi is supplied to the village and is paid for by having residents watch an online ad from the same cola company, isn’t that a much more effective campaign all around? After all, the citizens get access to free WiFi and all its attendant benefits, the cola company gains a captive audience for its adverts and government reduces the digital divide.”

The best part of all, he continues, is that the solution for monetising WiFi is flexible, while nonetheless delivering decent and relevant business intelligence (BI). Those implementing the solution can ask users logging on for the first time to provide basic information. Each time they log on, they can be asked to provide additional data, allowing the operator or government department providing the service to build up a comprehensive demographic of the users, and include custom surveys and polls, which can then be translated into new service delivery approaches.

“Too often, the focus is merely on the provision of free WiFi to citizens. However, with a little bit of thought and application, companies can utilise such information, obtained via research or marketing questions, to learn more about the end-users and thus improve their service delivery.

“Moreover, from a social responsibility point of view, companies could logically deliver such networks as part of their corporate social investment (CSI) plans, while at the same time ensuring that they also gain long-term benefits from the implementation. Questions can be asked of those using the service in such a way as to provide granular detail that significantly improves the supplier’s knowledge of the end-customers. Such an approach could be adopted by local telecommunication companies when implementing a network, though it may also be attractive to international businesses seeking to spend their CSI budget in Africa.”

Daffarn explains that in the latter example, advertisements or information relating to something like health issues such as HIV/Aids could be disseminated via the WiFi log-in screen, thereby delivering valuable information to communities that they may otherwise not have been exposed to.

“I think the real reason we haven’t seen this take off yet is because the majority of service providers in this environment have yet to move beyond the simplistic mindset of ‘let’s give people free WiFi’, or, ‘let’s put a service in place that sells access by megabyte or gigabyte’. It is imperative that corporates and governments alike start to think beyond this, so that they can leverage WiFi as a genuine BI tool to learn more about their customers or citizens.

“People are still stuck in a frame of mind where they have a very limited and narrow vision that WiFi is about nothing more than accessing the Internet. What they haven’t yet realised, in the main, is that monetising it is relatively easy and can have an enormous impact in terms of the many larger social benefits it can offer to communities.

“A key benefit of these solutions that adds to the BI and that has commercial value, too, is the ability to count the visitors to parts of a town, city or other area, regardless of the user actually logging into WiFi.

“Planning efficient transport, understanding peak times and trends, apart from gaining BI on the potential commercial size for advertisers, is another win-win, which is unique to this kind of intelligent WiFi monetisation being the right solution or platform,” concludes Daffarn.

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