5G as a technology disruptor: the end of free Wi-Fi as a marketing tool?

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Liz Ince, Managing Consultant, analyses the implications of 5G on marketing tools, more specifically, the use of wi-fi.

For many years the provision of a free Wi-Fi internet connection has been used by retailers, restaurants, venues and shopping centres as a way of obtaining consumer email addresses and other details. This is because signing up to a free Wi-Fi offering has been conditional on the provision of some personal data by the consumer. Usually, this is seen as a fair exchange, as both parties get something from the arrangement – the consumer a free internet connection and the organisation free marketing data.

This free consumer data has, for some organisations, been the primary source of marketing – once signed up, the consumer can have data “pushed” to their phone. Moreover, organisations can link a phone to a consumer and therefore know when they enter their store or building. Using these technologies allows sophisticated tracking and profiling of consumers to be carried out, and all this data is fed into data warehouses to provide profiling and marketing information.

However, the imminent roll-out of a 5G (the 5th generation) mobile network threatens this cosy arrangement. The consumer will soon have access to a better mobile network performance than what Wi-Fi provides – and the cheap mobile bandwidth to match – all provided by 5G. At the same time, data packages offered by the big mobile network carriers are getting ever larger for the same or less cost. Therefore, there will be much less incentive to use free Wi-Fi and so, threatening the offer as a marketing tool. This will start to become more evident as 5G starts to rollout over the next few years.

Because of the public’s ever-increasing demand for bandwidth, it is not a question of if 5G will roll-out pervasively, but how fast 5G will roll-out. The provision of more bandwidth is required to support the public’s increasing desire to access systems and data on the move – from Google Maps to BBC iPlayer. Therefore, infrastructure changes need to take place to support the roll-out of the new 5G networks, which means that the roll-out will take some time. However, the majority of telecommunications companies have been working on 5G for a number of years and have already started to put in the infrastructure to support the roll-out. The first operational 5G networks are now entering service with Vodafone and EE switching on 5G networks in Manchester, London, Edinburgh, Cardiff, Belfast, and Birmingham- this has been coupled with the launch of new 5G handsets.  If we assume that most people change their mobile phones every 2-3 years, we can expect to start to see take-up of the new handsets begin in earnest in about 2 years’ time.

Overall, many companies have not thought about what communications they have with the consumer when using the data that has been collected from the free Wi-Fi sign-up. Frequently a “one-size fits all” marketing email or promotion is sent out with no thought to what the recipient actually might want or need. This type of marketing communication is not enough to keep the consumer on your contact list – especially now that GDPR gives them the ability to remove themselves quickly and easily.

Marketing needs to be thoughtful and appropriate. The communication itself needs to offer some value to the consumer and not just exist in response to a Wi-Fi login. Do you try and understand your consumers? Do you segment them so that maybe you send less, but better targeted communications that will have a higher uptake? Are you offering appropriate contact or just deluging everyone with emails in the hope that something sticks?

Companies need to think about what they are really offering to consumers beyond free Wi-Fi. Concentrating on what a valuable exchange between a consumer and an organisation would be needs to be carefully considered, because the instant gratification of free Wi-Fi for a consumer will soon be disappearing.

To read about 5G, please click here for Capgemini’s report.


Liz Ince

Managing Consultant

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