Network equipment maker Netgear is partnering with Facebook Wi-Fi to provide a portal for free Wi-Fi access for small businesses. Under the arrangement, a visitor to a bookstore or coffee shop that utilizes a Netgear router for its Wi-Fi service could provide to customers the ability to get free Internet access after checking into that business
's Facebook page.
The application, available on four of Netgear's coming premium routers that support dual-band 802.11ac wireless, provides a reason for customers to visit the business's Facebook page and to "like" the page, see any special offers, new products, signups or other announcements. 802.11ac offers the fastest Wi-Fi, up to Gigabit speeds.
The arrangement ties in the popular Netgear routers with the existing Facebook Wi-Fi, and is not unlike the log-in to free wireless available at Starbucks and various hotels, which also provide entry through a business announcement page. The Facebook page also lets the business use Facebook analytics to track customer usage.
David Henry, vice president of product management for Netgear Retail Business, told news media that the offer was targeted at such small businesses as cafes, bookstores and barber shops. One business, Palo Alto's Coupa Cafe, was cited in the announcement as having seen "a dramatic increase in the number of check-ins to our Facebook Page" since adopting the solution. The routers are being demonstrated at the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, CES 2014, which is running this week.
Ross Rubin, principal analyst with industry research firm Reticle Research, pointed out that "Facebook has an interest in facilitating connectivity," and is one of the companies leading the Internet.org effort to make broadband more widely available in developing countries.
He also said that the arrangement is similar to other such wireless-access-through-business-portals solutions, such as Gogo on airliners. While this coupling of wireless hardware with business media allows smaller companies to generate more traffic, Rubin also noted that some municipalities, such as San Francisco, are beginning to offer free Wi-Fi in highly trafficked areas, a development that could lessen the appeal. Wi-Fi hotspots are often available either as a public utility or as a lure from businesses.
After a business configures the router for access through Facebook, customers will be requested to check in to the page and, if they wish, can like the page. On subsequent visits to the establishment, the customer is given the option of automatically logging on through the Facebook page, thus providing a continuing business portal to customers.
Netgear has also announced its own competitor to Google's Chromecast dongle. While Google's allows consumers to plug the Chromecast unit into a TV set's USB port and then send videos and other content from a smartphone, tablet or laptop to the set, Netgear's NeoMediacast HDMI dongle is intended for telecommunication providers, so they can offer a "curated content store" of Android apps on a TV.