Earlier today Apple announced its long expected entry in to the smaller tablet market. With an almost 8″ screen size, the screen space is larger than the obvious competition (Amazon’s Kindle Fire devices and Google’s Nexus 7), and that matters with a device primarily used for consuming media. But, it is also a fair bit more expensive than those other offerings, especially if you are thinking of springing for the dual radio Wi-Fi + 4G LTE version.
But wait, why would you pay an extra $130 for that cellular radio when free Wi-Fi is appearing everywhere? Don’t believe me? Look around. In the last 10 months we have seen free Wi-Fi come online at more and more venues. Early on, the trend setters outside of the cafe/restaurant space were Macy’s, Home Depot, Nordstom and Staples all showing strong usage on Black Friday last year. Now that list has grown to include Target, Walmart, Sam’s Club, Saks Fifth Ave, Pacific Sunwear, Kohls, Winn-Dixie, Krogers and Office Depot to name a few from the top of our daily connections list. Several of the large mall owners are also offering free Wi-Fi throughout their facility, allowing you to remain connected to high bandwidth networks while you shop. For indoor malls Wi-Fi is even more valuable as cellular network coverage is often limited inside large concrete buildings.
Restaurants, cafes and bars are adding free Wi-Fi too; finding a coffee shop without free Wi-Fi is almost impossible now. And bars and restaurants are rapidly getting in on the act as well. Small businesses everywhere are finding that adding free Wi-Fi is cheap, and something that their customers appreciate (and in some cases even expect).
It doesn’t just stop at food, drink and retail establishments either. Our top connections list each day shows hospitals, schools and even some hotels and airports offering free Wi-Fi now. Those last two venues used to be among the highest priced Wi-Fi access anywhere, but increasingly they are switching to free access. We’re also seeing car dealers, tire centers and even hair salons adding free Wi-Fi; all the places where you might find yourself spending some time waiting.
There is another Wi-Fi network I am finding more and more often here too: the public access offered by my cable internet provider. Waiting for a ride outside West Oakland BART a few weeks back I found it for the first time, and I measured almost 20 Mbps download on my Evo (double the best speed I’ve measured on its 4G WiMAX radio). Today, as I pumped gas in Alameda, I noticed my phone had connected to Wi-Fi; again it was the Comcast network.
Comcast has also partnered with Time Warner and Cablevision to offer roaming access; customers of the three companies can roam over all three Wi-Fi networks. That gives me free Wi-Fi coverage.
On The Go Access
With your smartphone, part of the appeal is being able to connect to the internet everywhere. On a tablet though, you are rarely walking down the street using it. Even at the smaller size of the iPad mini, it is really a device to be used while sipping a latte, or sitting on the train. And in all those places, and more, you can connect to high speed, free Wi-Fi now.
So save the extra $130 on the device (not to mention the extra data plan from your carrier), and join the free Wi-Fi revolution. Use that money to buy content or apps for your new tablet, whether you choose the iPad mini, or any of the fantastic Android 7″ tablets, your free Internet connection is likely out there, right where you need it and without the need for an expensive cellular radio & data plan.
Next time you’re out and about see how many establishments you visit have free Wi-Fi; and be sure to let us know your experiences in the comments section. I think you’ll be surprised just how much free Wi-Fi there is out there now.