Quentin Daffarn, MD, UC-Wireless.

Quentin Daffarn, MD, UC-Wireless.

WiFi today has become so ubiquitous that it doesn't seem to matter where you are, you expect to be able to access it. Regardless of whether you are in a hotel, a hospital, an airport or even on a bus, the desire for connectivity remains. Moreover, the expectation today is that such WiFi is provided free of charge, an expectation to which most organisations tend to bow.

While there is nothing wrong with delivering a service that keeps customers happy, the companies providing this access tend to under-exploit the value that can be obtained from the provision of this free connectivity.

According to Quentin Daffarn, MD at UC-Wireless, users that wish to access a free WiFi service are usually expected to provide some level of credentials. This may be as simple as entering their phone number or e-mail address, or logging in via social media accounts, or it may be a little more time-consuming, with the provider asking them to complete a short questionnaire.

"The trouble is that although such credentials immediately provide additional information about the customer to the service provider, they are seldom able to effectively validate and utilise this information to assist them in delivering even more effective services. And yet, with the right WiFi management solution, one that incorporates analytics, it becomes possible to customise and personalise offerings according to individuals," he says.

"In addition, anyone who walks into a hospital, casino, airport or hotel – or any venue with public access WiFi – and logs on, immediately sees a login screen. This is in effect a captive portal and can be branded in a range of ways. Moreover, as you learn more about the user, it becomes possible to customise the access screen to deliver personalised advertising messages to individual users, provided you have the right solution to deliver this flexibility and marketing power."

He explains that it can also provide improved levels of service to users. For example, were someone to log in at a hospital, the system could detect who they are, check their medical file number and note that they have an appointment with a particular doctor. The system could then provide the user with real-time way finding to get to the doctor's rooms rapidly or; if no appointment was found, present a list of options to select to assist the visitor with the purpose of their visit or to navigate them in real-time wherever they want to go.

"Knowledge of the numbers of people who are regularly found in the waiting area could also be used to ensure that enough seating is provided, and that the in-house restaurant or coffee shop is stocking the right products, as visitor preferences and other valuable customer centric data can help put the client first."

"The analytics associated with a good WiFi solution could even be used to benefit public transport systems. Many of these provide WiFi today, perhaps only at the station or bus-stop. However, by analysing the users closely but anonymously, it becomes possible to understand user traffic patterns and when the numbers of passengers are the highest. This enables the transport authority to structure their schedules according to how people are using the system – something that is more cost-effective for them and less stressful for the passengers."

When it comes to the analytics and business intelligence behind such a solution, it ultimately provides a continual loop of feedback so that the provider can constantly improve the services and marketing offers delivered. Thus they are constantly able to tweak these to ensure that customers are always receiving what suits them best, such as selecting the right tenants in a mall or optimising their location to create a win-win for all.

"In the end, you don't want to waste the glorious opportunity that is presented by providing free WiFi access to people, or simply let this information be gathered by others to your venue's disadvantage. Using a solution that has significant depth of analytics behind it means that you are able to get something out of it too. Solutions that also leverage location-based services (LBS) and the analytics behind this are even more powerful as they can provide marketing in a specific desirable location to users in real-time or they can analyse visitor traffic in a specific virtual area."

"More crucially, a good solution will be future-proofed, so that you are able to integrate not only marketing, but also location-based services, third party solutions through open integration and even language detection and serving visitors in that language. Think how awesome it would be as a foreign tourist, to arrive at an airport and when you want to access the WiFi, it is able to detect what language you speak. This would mean it could deliver a portal in your home language, along with information related to transport services, nearby hotels and even suggest potential tourist sites to visit, not to mention more effective advertising because you have treated the visitor as a person or individual. This is the kind of power that WiFi service providers can ultimately hold," he says. "Finally, the most exciting aspect is that these are over the top services that can often be delivered on existing WiFi which is already throughout many hospitals, malls, hotels, restaurant chains and public places such as city WiFi," he concludes.

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