The rollout of free Wi-Fi across Melbourne could spell good news for the city’s SMEs – provided they’re situated on the right street.
Last Thursday the Daniel Andrews government launched the Melbourne branch of its “world class” VicFreeWifi network, which has been active in Ballarat and Bendigo since December last year.
The $11 million dollar pilot program will eventually cover the entire CBD and surrounds, but for now the network, provided by telecommunications company TPG, will only be accessible in certain “hotspots”.
These include Flinders Street and Southern Cross Stations, Melbourne Central, and the heart of Bourke St Mall. The future access points will be enabled over the coming months, with the aim for all to be active by the end of the year.
In a statement, the Small Business, Trade and Innovation Minister Phillip Dalidakis said with the roll-out, Victorians “have the best of everything, not only in Melbourne but our regional cities as well”.
“Whether visitors are coming into town to go shopping, eat in Melbourne’s famous laneways or head to the AFL Grand Final this long weekend, they’ll all be able to access and enjoy the fastest free Wi-Fi in the country,” Dalidakis said.
Can SMEs get surfing?
Users can access up to 250 megabytes per device, per day, without any login or advertising. Michael Jankie, chief executive of Wi-Fi marketing agency PoweredLocal, welcomes the new network, but warns the 250-megabyte restriction might limit SMEs that are looking at the service.
“I think the network will be great, but it seems to be more aimed at tourists. I’m surprised it came from the innovation office, as it’s hardly going to drive leading innovators to Melbourne,” Jankie says.
“When it comes to its use for business, 250 megabytes is simply too low for any realistic use.”
Jankie doesn’t believe the new plan could ever replace a business grade network, but recognises the benefits for businesses like cafes, which might not have their own Wi-Fi networks yet.
“It’s absolutely better for businesses who don’t already offer free Wi-Fi, it’ll now be even easier to attract “nomadic” workers if your business is in that free Wi-Fi zone,” Jankie says.
Small businesses like cafes have come to realise there’s more to attracting customers than “the quality of the beard on the barista”, Jankie says, citing free Wi-Fi as a main reason customers regularly visit cafes.
“There’s this whole world of nomadic workers around who want to sit there for an hour with a coffee and some smashed avocado, and businesses want to attract those customers,” he says.
“They might sit there and order $25 dollars worth of food over that hour, and free Wi-Fi in a cafe will definitely attract them.”
Jankie also believes the lure of free Wi-Fi provides more than just retail opportunities for small businesses, because there’s a marketing aspect that often flies under the radar.
“People want to use free Wi-Fi, and businesses benefit by getting interaction and marketing data from it,” Jankie says.
“Something as simple as the customer checking in on Facebook, or leaving their email address can be great for a business’ exposure.”
A Victorian Government spokesperson told SmartCompany in a statement:
“VicFreeWiFi is the largest and most advanced free public Wi-Fi network of its kind in Australia. It is currently available in outdoor public spaces in the Ballarat and Bendigo CBDs, in Melbourne CBD tourist hotspots and CBD train stations and will be available on all major streets in the Melbourne CBD by the end of 2016.”
“Businesses across the three cities will become more discoverable with tourists and visitors being able to connect to online services easier.”