I am regularly travelling both domestically and internationally – running seminars for BNI, for my own business and also privately. As I am a heavy user of social networking and the web one of the things I need is internet access to stay in touch.
I take various devices with me when travelling – my BlackBerry, my 3G Netbook and my iPod Touch (a smaller version of the iPad) and have to juggle them to get the best connection and access.
In the UK I am surprised about the number of places that don’t have wifi or a 3G mobile phone signal – frequently when away I am left with only a basic GPRS mobile connection, which is more than 5 times slower than dial up! When it is available, there are also many hotels and conference venues that charge up to £10 a day for wifi access, and I have found that the quality of connection is not very good anyway.
When you are restricted to this level of connection speed it is surprising how much your experience is affected. Whilst I can still easily access twitter, foursquare, Facebook and email via apps on my BlackBerry anything else is painfully slow and I usually have to turn off pictures and wait a long time just to download a webpage. Unfortunately this also means I cannot access YouTube or video blogs, such as Thomas’s excellent ones, until I am back in an area of good coverage.
Similarly, I have a series of videos on my website that explain the service and process – if someone was accessing my site through a basic connection then they would lose the benefit of these. Many sites also include extra features that become unavailable when used on mobile devices (for example Flash on the iPod/iPad)
There is a vast difference in experience depending on where I stay and, surprisingly, one of the countries that has the best experience and supply is actually one that people would not associate as being ahead of the UK – Spain.
Also, whilst in the US one of the hotels I stayed at had a great example of how to provide a good signal – they actually had a wifi router inside every wardrobe of every room, ensuring that a quality signal was available to all guests.
(On a related note Vanessa Warwick recently blogged about how the maximum internet speed you can achieve in a residential property is now actually starting to affect the house’s value, and I’m sure this will increase with more people working from home.)
Some business people in the UK are however starting to realise that providing a reliable, fast internet connection is actually a great benefit to them. For example hotels can find that people upload their holiday pictures to Facebook while they are still away – increasing the hotels exposure and allowing people to connect while they are there.
I was in Guernsey at the weekend and enjoyed a great lunch in a local cafe bar. I was able to connect through twitter and foursquare using the mobile signal, but if they had wifi for customers then I could have shared more and perhaps even uploaded a short video of the live music playing in the bar – bringing attention to them and they would then have a greater chance of bringing in both returning and new customers.
Businesses that embrace the web and provide services to their guests, without trying to charge for everything, will benefit. Another example happened to me at the weekend – I stayed at the Portland Heights Hotel overnight and received an email on my blackberry that needed printing – they share the receptions email address freely, so I forwarded the email to them and asked if there was any way I could get a print. I was surprised to receive a message on my phone while I was having dinner to say it had already been printed and was waiting at reception! This level of service really differentiates them from the competition, where some hotels would direct you to their business centre which is only open in business hours, and would have been charged for too.
When I travel to Spain, both to present BNI training seminars to local chapters and on holiday, the experience there is completely different to most places in the UK. Not only is there a full 3G signal available in most of the coastal areas, there is also free wifi in several public places – a great example is in Orange Square in Marbella. The cost to the local council of providing this is not much, however as well as providing a service to travellers enabling them to share their experiences it also brings people into the town square where they are most likely to buy a drink, a snack, or even a meal whilst they are connected there – therefore increasing the local economy directly as well as from future visitors that are connected with people there.
If you take a walk along the seafront in Marbella you will also see signs in most of the bars and restaurants telling people about their free wifi – they have realised that people travelling nowadays will want good web access, and they are directly increasing their trade as a result as well.
Using mobile devices to access the web is forecast to increase massively in the future – I actually already use my iPod Touch most for web access when I’m in a wifi area as it is so quick and easy. If you are watching a TV programme for example you can wake the iTouch up and Google something in a few seconds, giving you the answer instantly or you can look up a website from an advert straightaway.
With the continuing introduction of new mobile web devices and the iPad imminent in the UK there is a great opportunity for businesses to provide free and fast web access through both wifi and better 3G coverage which can in turn generate both direct business and publicity for low cost.