There’s an interesting contradiction in the way people perceive Wi-Fi. Most people understand it as a “thing” that is consistently and widely available. They expect and want to use it at a great many locations and — broadly speaking — it delivers the same functionality wherever it’s encountered.
But at the same time there is a tendency to view Wi-Fi as something defined, even restricted, by physical spaces: Because we use Wi-Fi in specific places, we classify it in terms of locations. We talk of connecting to “the coffee shop Wi-Fi”, or “Wi-Fi at the office”, or “store Wi-Fi”.
It is simultaneously ubiquitous and exclusive.
Businesses that offer Wi-Fi to their customers – retailers, transport providers, food and drink outlets, and so on – are naturally inclined to take the latter view. They have deployed Wi-Fi to serve their needs and the needs of those within their venue.
For this reason the use of Wi-Fi as a means of engaging consumers has developed along a strict merchant-centric template: The great majority of energy spent to date on harnessing Wi-Fi for engagement has been focused on improving the ability of a particular organization to engage its own customers, to its own ends, within its own venues.
How successful this has been is something only those merchants and venue operators truly understand. But from an end user perspective, the captive portals used in many venues deliver a terrible experience.
In any case, the merchant-centric approach, however valuable it may be on a case by case basis, entirely overlooks the true scale of the Wi-Fi engagement opportunity.
Imagine all the different brands whose products fill retailers’ shelves. Walmart Supercentres alone offer 142,000 different products — and product brands all want to engage consumers in locations where their products are stocked.
It doesn’t stop with consumer goods. Movie studios, utility companies, healthcare providers, airlines, financial services providers, and many more are all competing to engage their customers and potential customers as effectively as possible.
Now think of all the different venues in which this multitude of consumer-facing brands might wish to engage their customer base. The number of intersections between consumers, brands, and locations is astronomical.
Finally, consider that ubiquity of Wi-Fi — in particular its presence at so many of those intersections.
This is the true Wi-Fi engagement opportunity: The ability to leverage a common resource across a very large and diverse footprint to allow a multitude of consumer brands to engage millions of consumers.
This is precisely what Devicescape Engage does, by enabling any Wi-Fi access point to function as a proximity beacon, triggering location-specific messages to consumers’ smartphones as lock screen notifications. It is powered by Devicescape’s Curated Virtual Network of more than 300 million access points worldwide.
Engage requires no specialist hardware, it works with any existing Wi-Fi deployment and — controversially, no doubt — it does not depend on the involvement of venue owners or merchants.
Naturally it doesn’t interfere with merchants’ existing Wi-Fi engagement activities. Indeed merchants can derive great benefits by using Engage to message customers within their own stores, at nearby locations to drive footfall, or by building engage functionality into their own apps and enabling third party messaging.
But it does greatly expand the volume of engagement which can be delivered over Wi-Fi, as well as the range of brands able to message consumers in popular locations and the number of locations themselves.
The success of Wi-Fi as a means of engaging consumers, for every organization involved, depends on the ability of millions of disparate and discrete Wi-Fi points to function as a single network, achieving the benefits of scale, while retaining and exploiting their individual value.
It depends on that contradiction between ubiquity and exclusivity being resolved.