The world's a WiFi Zone; but paid-for? or free? War looms!

by Guy Kewney | posted on 09 January 2003

The idea of a WiFi Zone around the world is the brainchild of the people who gave us the WiFi brand: the organisation formerly known as WECA. But this is not branding; this is politics.

Guy Kewney

Officially, the "WiFi Zone" brand is a program to help customers locate public access WiFi points.

But the WiFi Alliance described this as "the first phase of a global program to promote the availability of public access services around the world."

"The primary goals of the program are to create a globally recognized brand for public access services, set a minimum quality standard and to improve users' ability to find WiFi enabled locations," said the announcement.

But the idea of public access services is one which isn't limited to commercial, branded operations; and there are a lot of people who will be incensed if their services, being free, aren't included in this listing.

The listings will appear on a new Web site, specially set up for the WiFi Zone program "to allow qualified providers who submit their application by March 31, 2003, to sign up to the program at no cost through March 2004. The second phase of the program will be rolled out in the first quarter of 2003 and will be open to users. This phase will include a Web site designed to locate WiFi Zones around the world," said the WiFi Alliance spokesman.

Locations that participate in the WiFi Zone program will be allowed to display the WiFi Zone logo, be included in WiFi Alliance promotional activities and be listed on the WiFi Zone Web site at

"We have received many requests to use the WiFi logo as an indicator of public service availability," said Dennis Eaton, Chairman of the WiFi Alliance.

"Although this market holds great potential, there are dozens of public access service brands around the world making it difficult for people to identify where WiFi public service is available. Our goal is to provide a reliable indicator that will allow customers to identify service providers who are committed to a common standard of quality ."

However, his phrasing makes it clear that he sees this as a commercial operation: "We expect the WiFi Zone brand to be used in conjunction with the local provider's brand - allowing the local brand to become even better recognized. Looking down the road, we plan to increase the requirements for WiFi Zone program participation as the market matures," continued Eaton.

The WiFi Alliance says it is launching this programme at this time because 2003 is shaping up to be a year for significant growth of the WiFi public access market with the entrance of several large organizations. The trouble is, it is also becoming a market of even more significant growth, with the launch of free-to-user services (often, by commercial organisations offering Internet access as a loss-leader to other services, as with companies like Wialess.

The organisation will, certainly, come under pressure to come down on one or other side of the public access fence. Is it for commercial organisations, collecting fees for registering them? or is it a public service, provided purely as a branding exercise for publicity? Either way, the WiFi Alliance will offend half the market.

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