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A radio futurologist writing about what happens when radio and new platforms collide
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How to do free wifi right

Posted on Friday, March 2nd, 2012 at 5:58 pm. #

Tesco Mlieko

Notable about all the places that offer free wifi in London is a requirement to accept the terms and conditions – and, in almost all cases, a requirement to register (excepting Starbucks). The registration of these services is rarely checked – I regularly surf the web as “me@me.com” – and is mostly useless (I’ve never had any communication from any companies as a result of using their free wifi); but I do understand the legal need to get a user to accept terms and conditions to cover the places that offer free wifi from a legal perspective. But it’s clearly not required every time you connect.

These t&c interstitials cause problems for many devices too. If you’ve ever used a Starbucks wifi connection, your iPhone or Android device will automatically connect to “BT Openzone – Starbucks” whenever you walk near a Starbucks outlet – and then become entirely connectionless: since any request that’s going on from the phone will be rediverted to the login page until you get the phone out of your pocket, load the browser up, and click the big green button on the BT Openzone page that says “Connect”.

Further – this can’t go on. These repeated requests from devices in everyones’ pockets are now actually causing a fair amount of load on the registration servers; often, it’s difficult to get to the page that contains the t&cs, but once you’ve done that, the wifi speeds by. And this problem will only get worse.

So, who’s the only company in the UK that are doing free wifi right?


Why are Tesco offering free wifi? Potentially, to enable price comparison checks; or to let me listen to streaming radio, or podcasts, while I slowly amble around the store. And it probably doesn’t cost them anything, since they presumably already need wifi for their stock-checking or home grocery pickers.

So, pop into your local Tesco Extra store (that’s the big ones) and you’ll spot the Tesco free wifi in there. Connect to it, and it asks for your Clubcard number as a method of authentication – it’s a free service to Clubcard users only – and accepting the terms and conditions. And then you’re connected… forever.

Tesco store the MAC address of your wifi device against your personal details. They know who you are from your Clubcard account; and they know you’ve accepted the t&c for the free wifi. So, the next time you go into Tesco, your device will automatically connect to the free wifi and connect to the proper internet without requiring you to agree the t&cs again. Perfect.

That is how to do free wifi. Whether you’re Starbucks, The Cloud, Paragon, or any of the other free wifi providers – please do take note.

Or, better, remove the t&cs entirely.


commenting at March 2nd, 2012 at 6:08 pm

It’s worth noting that the industry itself is working on the issue of seamless handover from 3G to Wi-Fi without the need for authentication.

Obviously, only works when connecting to a Wi-Fi hotspot approved by the mobile network, but it is a step in the right direction.

James Cridland
commenting at March 2nd, 2012 at 6:13 pm

…and also doesn’t work very well for devices that don’t have 3G connectivity, like this here laptop.

That said, O2′s free access to The Cloud does work the same as Tesco’s – based on MAC address.

Peter Bowyer
commenting at March 2nd, 2012 at 6:32 pm

On a point of order, the Android app for BT FON/Openzone now recognises a Starbucks-style hotspot as well as the vanilla ones and authenticates.

But your general point is, of course, correct. I’m off to Tesco tomorrow for an in-store Costa and to sample the frictionless connectivity.

Steve Bentley
commenting at March 2nd, 2012 at 6:46 pm

I’m intrigued by your use of me@me.com as your email address for these services.

By not using a valid address you’re preventing the hotspot provider from having the opportunity to send you advertising and promotional material (on an opt in basis, as part of the terms and conditions you agree to).

Compare and contrast website users with ad blockers preventing you from having the opportunity of showing them advertising material…

James Cridland
commenting at March 2nd, 2012 at 6:51 pm

Steve – nobody’s perfect. Actually, it’s just Paragon hotspots I do that with – and it’s because me@me.com is really easy to type, unlike my email address. And I have used my proper email address with them too, so I’ve still kept up my side of the bargain. ;)

James Cridland
commenting at March 2nd, 2012 at 6:52 pm

Peter: it strikes me that an app that recognises “BT Openzone – Starbucks” and presses the button for me – and similar for The Cloud and Paragon – would be a sensible bit of development.

There is one out there which is open source (for Starbucks in the US), and I keep meaning to have a play.

Phil Sumner
commenting at March 2nd, 2012 at 9:49 pm

Regarding the potential to do price comparisons using wifi at Tesco – I suggest that you try using ShopSavvy on the Tesco wifi – it doesn’t work.

Well I say that, it didn’t work a few weeks ago at my local Tesco (Wrexham) and other sites worked fine. I’ve not tried it again since.

commenting at March 3rd, 2012 at 11:22 am

I try to be “nice” with the email address I use: test@example.com is a good one. As example.com can never exist, so i’m not giving them an email address that works, and not subjecting anyone to spam…

Mike Nolan
commenting at March 6th, 2012 at 1:18 pm

I’d be interested to know what Tesco do with the data they collect – it means they could know which shops you visit even if you don’t use your Clubcard at the checkout and with enough APs they could even track paths through the store.

James Cridland
commenting at March 6th, 2012 at 1:26 pm

“they could know which shops you visit even if you don’t use your Clubcard at the checkout” – that must be rather an edge case, I’m guessing. (And they’d also know that from credit card information)

“with enough APs they could even track paths through the store” – yep. In fact, read this: http://techfortesco.blogspot.com/2011/05/in-store-sat-nav-up-working-now-in.html

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