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February 21, 2018updated 20 Jul 2022 11:01am

The Golden Age of Wi-Fi Data

How people interact with Wi-Fi hotspots gives us valuable information about how they behave, move, and use their devices.

By James Nunns

Today, there are hundreds of millions of Wi-Fi hotspots around the world, catering to our insatiable need to stay connected.

As demand for Wi-Fi continues to grow, hotspots are increasingly becoming a valuable source of data as well. How people interact with Wi-Fi hotspots gives us valuable

Patricia Hume, Chief Commercial Officer, iPass

information about how they behave, move, and use their devices, as well as about the Wi-Fi hotspot itself. It’s no surprise then that all kinds of businesses are scrambling to leverage this data for various objectives, none more important than forging better relationships with customers and partners

Unlike other sources of location data, which can be unreliable, Wi-Fi data is incredibly accurate. At the street level, this could mean the difference between knowing whether a customer has actually walked into a location or just walked by it. And this location data is just the tip of the iceberg. For instance, knowing how long customers connect to a network for can inform venues how long people stay and how those visits vary by time of day, day of week, etc. Furthermore, performance data on when, where, and why users disconnect can help network operators improve their infrastructure and services, by highlighting connectivity issues.


TfL: Wi-Fi data goes underground

These are not abstract use cases either. We’ve seen several, innovative Wi-Fi data deployments this year alone. Transport for London (TfL), the local government body responsible for the transport system in Greater London, is a prime example, having recently made Wi-Fi available throughout the London Underground. Earlier this year, TfL analysed the data of millions of passengers: in total, 500 million anonymised Wi-Fi connection requests from 5.6 million devices. In tracking these devices in motion, TfL wanted to learn all it could about how people navigated the tube network, so as to improve the experience and efficiency of underground travel. For instance, TfL could map how different passengers made the same journey from St Pancras to Waterloo or how people moved within a station.

It is no exaggeration to say that this Wi-Fi data could shape the London Underground for years to come. It signals whether TfL should increase or decrease services at certain times as well as make improvements to layout and signage, so as to reduce congestion and passenger disorientation.

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Armed with this data, passengers might even modify their own behaviour to ensure quicker, quieter, and happier journeys. For instance, knowing that the 8:20 a.m. train has an average of 1,100 passengers versus the 8 a.m. and 8.35 a.m., which both average 500, may prompt a few commuters either to wake up earlier or leave later. The same principle applies above ground too, relevant to any location with a large footfall of consumers, eg. festivals, airports, and stadiums.


Wi-Fi data on the high street

With more and more high street locations offering Wi-Fi to their customers, Wi-Fi data is also making waves in retail marketing, enabling advertisers and marketers to understand the real-world impact of their initiatives and improving in-store and online customer relationships in the process. Nothing kills a brand’s relationship with its customers faster than bombarding them with irrelevant, out-of-context content. However, a customer’s location often tells you how and when to contact them. If you know where they’ve been and where they’re likely to go, you can tailor personalised content that meets their needs exactly.

Brands might not be able to accurately track how a billboard ad impacts sales. But just imagine being able to send a special offer to customers via a loyalty app when they’re in the vicinity of a brick and mortar location and see if that device actually arrived in the store. That could be a genuine game changer for the industry.

The future of Wi-Fi data

From connecting at home, on the Underground, in the office, or at a local coffee shop, connectivity is already impacting every aspect of our daily lives. In turn, Wi-Fi data will start to shape the world and services around us. 2018 certainly promises to be another exciting year for Wi-Fi data deployments and developments as we enter a golden age for Wi-Fi.

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