Interesting Wifi Trends in Public Places

PrintWithMe is now partnered with 30 businesses in Chicago and New York City. Through the normal course of installing our printing kiosks, we have encountered (and conquered), tons of different wifi environments that range from the excellent to the downright terrible.

We thought the various “public” cafe wifi setups we have encountered would make for a great blog post, so here are some of the things we’ve noticed in the past year:

  • Sorry, No Wifi Here – A small number of coffee houses are opting to buck the Starbucks playbook altogether and not offer wifi, thereby purposefully making their coffee venue less of a “third place”, and more of a “daily fix” destination. The most commonly cited reason is to discourage “camping” in stores – see previous blog post on how removing wifi can backfire on sales – but honestly, we see this “nuclear option” almost exclusively in places where real estate is tight, like espresso bars and coffee spots in NYC that are shoe-horned into cozy storefronts, some that are not much wider than a bowling lane.
  • The Terribly Overworked Router – A couple of the shops we have installed in unfortunately opted for the lean approach to offering wifi – running it off of a basic home-use router meant for no more than several connections at once. This leads to obvious problems of people getting booted off frequently, slow download/upload speeds, and difficulty initially connecting. Luckily, this is becoming exceedingly rare among decent coffee shops, as owners want to avoid confrontation from angry guests, and many owners see the value in keeping customers around, or at least keeping them in the habit of going to their coffee shop for their out-of-office laptop sessions.
  • Nearly-Permanent Passwords – One of the more surprising patterns we’ve noticed is that café owners rarely change their public wifi passwords. Yes, they’re aware of the moral hazard they’re permitting — they know that their neighbor Jimmy upstairs could easily acquire the password once in the café and then say good-bye to his pricey Comcast service, but nevertheless, they rarely change their public password, allowing for unfettered access by neighbors.
  • Time-Gated Wifi Systems – We first saw this in use at Birch Coffee in New York City, a small but growing number of cafés are offering time-gated wifi access. They do this by printing the wifi key on their receipts, allowing users access to wifi for 30, 60, 90 or 120-minute sessions at a time. Once the session is up, the customer must buy another menu item to renew the wifi sessions. This is a smart move by coffee houses who can afford this system and have an otherwise annoying issue with “serial campers” who buy only one item (or sometimes no items at all) and work in the café all day.
  • Social-Gated Wifi Access – Our friends at, and several other similar companies, are selling café partners on routers that require users to take a social media action to access the wifi network. This is a pretty smart product idea, though I feel that coffee houses have a hard time quantifying the true value. “Okay, so this program got me like 1,000 likes in a year, but what does that really get me?” Café managers who are truly social-media savvy can probably leverage these likes for efficient re-marketing campaigns – but that’s a rare café manager.
Interesting Wifi Trends in Public Places