The news that Camden Council in London is to start rolling out wifi in its open spaces, high streets and other public areas is, to my mind, some of the best news I’ve heard for some time. Camden Council is seeking to make sure that all its citizens don’t get left behind by the digital revolution – something that is laudable in itself – but from a commercial perspective, this is a really sound move.
As regular readers of my outpourings in this newsletter can attest, I am getting more and more frustrated with how rubbish mobile networks are. OK, so 4G is on the cards, but that’ll cost more and once everyone is on it, it’ll be as shonky as 3G is now. I want to use my iPhone for everything all the time, yet in most places I can’t because the networks are slow and the wifi ponderous or non-existant.
But rolling out wifi in public spaces will really help that. The fact that a council is doing it really speaks to my socialist principles too. However, the real boon here is that it will likely as not really help the businesses in Camden to really start to use mobile: and that means retailers are going to get a much needed fillip.
One of the key areas where mobile can deliver huge benefits is in getting people to visit independent high street stores: it is key to making the high street a real destination. As research out this week from Udozi suggests, many consumers want to use high street ’boutiques’ to buy things, only they can’t find them as they have no mobile presence.
They have no mobile presence, because right now the economics of investing in it just don’t add up. But if councils across the UK follow Camden’s lead and start to pop free (well for the first 30 minutes) all over the place, it suddenly becomes worth small high street shops investing in location based vouchering, targetted SMS ads and all the other things mobile can bring.
And it makes sense to the councils to do this too. They can cover the cost of installation through sign up fees for those that want more than 30 minute slots, they can sell advertising on the landing page, and, in theory at least, they will garner better business rates from their high street shops through bigger sales. It also puts local government at the heart of delivering connectivity: something that, to my mind, the corporate world is increasingly failing to deliver – certainly to anyone who isn’t a reasonable to high earner.
Network technology – the very connectivity – is the bedrock of m-commerce and it needs to work, for everyone, for m-commerce to prosper. Now is the time to start looking at who delivers this and how – and perhaps it isn’t always the network operators who know best?