In most industries the customer is a person with a location, preferences, etc. Even in location specific industries, like utilities, there is the idea of the premise for operational systems connected with a customer for business systems. All of this is going to change and one industry that is going to lead the charge is Wi-Fi connectivity.
Here is why and what to watch for.
The increasing number of Wi-Fi connected devices that people carry on the road is creating a unique test for remote access providers. Up until now, most providers assumed that an individual would carry a device that they would want to connect to the Internet. The customer and device were one in the same. This worked when the customer carried a laptop and needed to connect in the airport.
Today people have multiple devices many of which look to wifi connectivity. In my case it’s the iPad that I want to use to surf email while my PC is connected to handle heavier duties, like expense reporting, while I am stuck in an Airport Lounge.
This raises the question, who is the customer? Me or the device.
T-mobile’s wireless access sees the device as the customer as access is keyed to account name and limits one account to one device. Other services, for example free airport Wi-Fi connectivity, do not care how many devices a person carries it is all fee. There is no customer, only access. Cell phone carriers 3G plans treat the device as the premise tied to a customer – like a utility model.
The challenge is which model will win and that is largely based on what the customer wants and things that they are buying. In my case, and I would guess for most people the idea of buying access can be defined as:
Access is for me regardless of which device I choose to access or how many devices I have accessing at the same time.
For the carriers they would want access to be either for one person or one device at a time with multiple devices requiring multiple accounts. That gets the carrier more money, but it compromises the value of having multiple Wi-Fi enabled devices.
This will be an interesting space to watch, particularly as the marginal cost of having a second connected device seems small from the consumer’s perspective, but will loom large for companies that have to provide more access points and capacity.
Wifi access is one of the first areas where one could consider the device as the customer. A view that is part of device-to-device commerce.
Right now carriers and service providers are unclear on the issue. Technical DSL to the home is for one computer and they do not support the wireless router you use to provide access to multiple devices. The same exists for mobile Internet; you can carry around a mobile wireless router to connect multiple devices, a technical solution but not what a customer is looking for.
It will be interesting to see how Wi-Fi providers and carriers address this issue. They could use it as part of new products and services for example – “XYZ” lets you connect as many devices as you want without a hassle. Or they can stick to the implied one customer – one device model.
I know which one I would prefer and be willing to pay a small premium to get.
How about you?