Biz Services: WiFi Becoming Table Stakes

Aug. 20, 2014
While three or four years ago, small businesses offering free WiFi to their customers was a differentiator - a way to bring in incremental ...
While three or four years ago, small businesses offering free WiFi to their customers was a differentiator - a way to bring in incremental business - few were doing it. Now, according to a Comcast Business (NASDAQ:CMCSA) poll of 971 small businesses, 79% of small businesses surveyed offer a free WiFi service, and an additional 3% plan to have one soon.

About 97% of those small businesses surveyed that offer WiFi said they do so to improve the customer experience, which means speed, capacity and security matter, said Mike Tighe, executive director of data services for Comcast Business. "(WiFi) has become a table stake. Your ability to deliver high quality service reflects on your brand. (If) a restaurant or bar (has) bad WiFi, it casts a shadow on the brand."

In other words, providing a robust experience requires more than running down to the electronics store and buying a WiFi router. "There are quality of service implications if you do it yourself," Tighe said. "If you don't have the expertise, there could be security issues. This plays into the strategy of retailers saying they want a managed WiFi service."

Comcast recently launched a Business Wireless Gateway service that offers a private wireless signal for back-office and employee needs and a separate public WiFi for customers to use. "You want to secure the guest WiFi from the private side - things like connected tablets for inventory or a point-of-sale ordering system," Tighe said. "You don't want the guest streaming and watching Netflix (causing congestion) so the point-of-sale systems don't work. We offer secure, segregated bandwidth."

Comcast Business customer J.P. Licks, an ice cream parlor chain in Boston, noted that customers who come in for the WiFi usually stay a while and buy more than a cone. "Offering this amenity was extremely important to us as it directly impacts sales," said Vincent Petryk, founder and owner of J.P. Licks.

Supporting this is the fact that there are websites and apps designed to help travelers find hotels with fast speeds, including Speed Spot. A July report by OpenSignal indicated that there is a direct correlation between WiFi speed and cost of the hotel room. The research also compared WiFi speeds at Starbucks that have completed the transition to Google's (NASDAQ:GOOG) WiFi to those that were still utilizing AT&T (NYSE:T). The former experiences average download speeds of 9 Mbps, while the AT&T speeds are closer to 5 Mbps. Starbucks announced the switch about a year ago.