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Facebook and Cisco partner to offer free Wi-Fi at stores

Users 'check in' to store's Facebook page to gain free wireless access

October 3, 2013 02:17 PM ET

Computerworld - Cisco and Facebook have become unusual friends in a new collaboration that offers free Wi-Fi to consumers who "check in" to a participating business via a Facebook account.

The service, called Cisco Connected Mobile Experience with Facebook Wi-Fi, promises to give consumers quick access to Wi-Fi at airports, hotels and corner stores, according to officials and a Cisco blog posted Wednesday.

Instead of going through a sometimes painful process of finding and typing in a password for a Wi-Fi hotspot, a user with a smartphone, tablet or laptop could connect to a business's Wi-Fi router and get directed to the business's Facebook page. The user clicks a blue button and receives free Wi-Fi access, Cisco and Facebook officials explained in an interview Thursday. Facebook has also posted an FAQ to help users and businesses with the process.

For Cisco, the world's largest Wi-Fi equipment maker, the collaboration will expand Cisco's potential to sell businesses a network appliance called the Mobility Services Engine. Facebook, meanwhile, gains a huge boost in its ongoing attempts to bring local ads to the social network's more than 800 million monthly mobile users.

Businesses that set up the service, meanwhile, get access to anonymous, aggregated information on visitors to a store, such as age, gender and location. A mall, hotel, airport or store can also follow where the most users gather, for how long, and at what time of day to better offer them new products, coupons or promotions.

"It might look like an unusual marriage, but we've got the best of social networking and business intelligence combined," said Chris Spain, vice president of product management at Cisco.

Google in July announced plans to offer free Wi-Fi to 7,000 Starbucks coffee shops in the U.S. using equipment and services from Level 3.

Asked if Facebook is in a race against Google to reach more local businesses for ad opportunities, Facebook's Erick Tseng, head of mobile products and strategy, downplayed the competitive angle. "We're really excited about the local marketing opportunity with Facebook Wi-Fi, but have nothing immediate to announce about how it ties to advertising," Tseng said. "I don't know about any race [with Google], but we want to see as many businesses as makes sense that want Facebook Wi-Fi. We decided there's no better way than getting to the top with Cisco."

Partnering with Cisco, the world's largest networking provider, gives Facebook access to large businesses that may have thousands of local retail outlets and likely already run Cisco networking gear in their network operations. "We have the best partner out there, from the enterprise angle, and the world's biggest brains in the business," Tseng said.

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