We wrote a piece on ad-supported Wi-Fi (New Wi-Fi Business Models: Opportunities for Advertisers in Free Hotspots) back in July. We tried to talk to a couple of publications about the possibility, but we had a hard time selling them on the idea – that advertisers might pay for local spots on a public Wi-Fi network. The journalist scheduled several rounds with us to discuss the concept, but eventually gave up because he/she just couldn't imagine it.
Google has now thrown their name in the hat along with 24+ other entities to build/operate a wireless network in San Francisco. See story. Our research shows that the majority of public Wi-Fi users want the service for free. A Wi-Fi network in San Francisco will require a lot of micro revenue streams, cost savings, and perceived benefits by the community to justify the cost. Local advertising can be challenged by a high cost of sales and lack of inventory, but adoption of public Wi-Fi is growing quickly (even if unpaid) and will offer a lot of eyeballs in San Francisco. Will be an interesting story to follow.