Skype users could soon be able to enjoy free WiFi on British and Irish high streets assuming enough shops, restaurants, cafes and hotels sign up for the US company’s low-cost provision.
Launched with WiFi infrastructure firm Wicoms, Free Skype WiFi will let users logging in with the company’s WiFi app and service ID to access the service via a laptop or smartphone.
From the stated ambition of the project, users will get something that has so far promised a lot but delivered remarkably little – decent-quality free Wi-Fi in cities and towns without the need to wade through clunky authentication screens as is often the case with current services.
The alternative is paid Wi-Fi but that has proved so expensive for consumers and businesses alike that few have taken to the technology.
Businesses will get a service to ‘add value’ to attract consumers and the ability to interact with consumers by offering marketing and discounts. For its part, Skype hopes to have hit on a way of spreading the popularity of its service, especially on phones.
“Simplicity is at the heart of everything Skype does. We believe that internet access should be available to everyone in a simple and affordable way,” said Skype Access program manager, Shadi Mahassel.
“Our partnership with Wicoms enhances our ability to make Skype universally accessible and expands on our WiFi strategy, which today provides paid WiFi access at over one million locations worldwide,” he said.
The key will be getting businesses to sign up, possibly over WiFi services they already offer on an ad-hoc basis. That means attracting more users than they could get by simply handing out their own WiFi keys.
Businesses will also get information on who has used the service to capture marketing data. This could be the catch for some consumers - go on a local retail chain's email list. Now multiply that by the number of possible hotspots in an average town.
Packages start at £9.99 (plus VAT) per month plus a £49 router (plus VAT), with free testing offered throughout October. Firms can also make a 12-month upfront payment of £95.