Why Wi-Fi is key to the Adaptive & Recovery Strategies of our Smart Cities

By Simon Vaughan, chief commercial officer, GlobalReach Technology

Even before COVID, town and city centres were planning their recovery from fierce competition from online shopping.  Councils, planners, and private consultants have been reimagining how these public spaces look, what facilities and shops that should include and critically, how they attract – and keep – people there to frequent them.


COVID may have accelerated the trend for online shopping, with shoppers literally shut out of brick-and-mortar shops and shopping malls during the lockdown. However, city centres that link the online and the physical shopping experience, will build back better to recover faster. Resilient retailers and retail management companies are turning to Wi-Fi on the streets as part of their strategy to re-engage with locals, tourists, guests and visitors – and attract them back to shops.  


GlobalReach provides public Wi-Fi in a number of large international cities. In the majority of cases, the objective of the service provider goes beyond user connectivity, to being able to engage with users.  Our mobile experience is already based on knowing who and where someone is, and we’re familiar with the welcome text to the local cellular network as we leave the airplane.  Similar engagement can happen when shoppers are authenticated and connected to a city’s public Wi-Fi network. Depending on the operator, this engagement could take the form of public service information, travel information, or delivering services to connect the unconnected.  In a major US city using our services, they are driving people to use Wi-Fi to also anonymously understand the flow of people and manage social distancing.  


Whether using a captive portal or another method to log into the service, each authentication links the individual with the service provider’s CRM. In turn, this can trigger communications, information, and digital services when the user is present.  Using the location of the nearest access point at the point of log-in (or as the user moves from access point to access point in the network), the network marketing manager can target them with personalised presence-based marketing such as coupons, food, and beverage menus, discounts, limited time offers, booking systems for popular attractions and more. 


Increasingly, city councils are also launching resident and tourist apps, which is an opportunity to add Passpoint Wi-Fi to engage with the shopper directly. Passpoint uses a unique, anonymous mobile device profile to automatically connect and identify the user. Once authenticated and connected, the network manager knows who’s nearby, and can identify and engage with returning shoppers as soon as they set foot in the network.


Unlike using a mobile phone on a cellular network, where user data is owned by the operator and tends not to be available to SMBs, Wi-Fi user data is accessible to the local network, and marketing managers providing the user gives consent.  When data is captured correctly, according to a specific set of T&Cs, (for example GDPR UK, GDPR, or other local data protection laws), local trade associations or traders who know the area can act on the data and define a plan to attract a certain type of customer.  


When you consider the multi-cultural makeup of a busy city centre shopping area, knowing as much as possible about each user makes this engagement meaningful and effective. The user’s native language can be determined using Wi-Fi, and content like local language web city information pages and or coupons can be sent.


Pre-COVID, high-performance Wi-Fi was already key to getting people back to our shops. Now, with social distancing, public information, and safety to deliver, it’s playing a new, value-added role.


Find out more about the GlobalReach Wi-Fi solutions for Connected Places.