Question: What have Facebook and Palo Alto, Ca, got in common with Addiply and Loddon, Norfolk? We’re both gunning for a $5.8bn mobile-local ad market via free public wifi…

I’m just going to chop a big quote out of this piece The headline itself – ‘Facebook experiments with free wifi…’ – was enough to capture my attention.

For what then followed was utterly fascinating. Not just for anyone seeking free wifi in the Coupa Cafe in downtown Palo Alto; a popular hang-out for Stanford tecchies…

‘…when I get to my table, turn on my phone and open my browser, it takes me to Facebook. It instructs me to log in to get free Wi-Fi. (You can bypass the sign-in but that wasn’t totally apparent to me.)

Facebook says its experimenting with a few local businesses to “offer a quick and easy way to access free Wi-Fi after checking in on Facebook.”

Rocky Agrawal, a consultant at reDesign mobile, suspects there’s more to this than good will.

“It’s a good way for Facebook to know where you’re at, they can deliver all sorts of new offers,” Agrawal says.

Companies are banking on location based advertising to bring in big money for mobile, but there are a lot of hurdles to clear before companies like Facebook can target your location precisely…’

The big money the piece refers to is, for example, the $5.8bn BIA/Kelsey forecast the mobile-local ad space to be worth in the US by 2016. That figure was the one that I quoted in my opening presentation at #1000flowers in Newcastle on Tuesday. It was also quoted by our Ian as he offered his own presentation later that afternoon.

Linking mobile advertising to locality/location/local is clearly a hot space right now on the streets of Palo Alto. Relying on GPS or ‘cell towers’ to offer a user’s location is problematic, apparently.

“It all depends on where you’re at, are you in a parking lot, are you around tall buildings or trees, basically do you have a clear view of the sky,” Groves says.

“Using location data from cell towers is another option, but Groves says that’s less accurate because there aren’t enough of them…”

So Facebook have come up with a cunning plan… ‘It gave the Coupa a wireless router, which can be tied to a location…

“So all of the sudden you have precise locations on every business you’ve shipped that too,” Agrawal says.

The picture at the top of the page is of the WiSpire broadband ‘mast’ that between me and NESTA we shipped to the top of Holy Trinity Church, Loddon, earlier this morning. For the record, we have also shipped one of those to the towers of Bergh Apton church tower and that of Ashby St Mary. Its how our back-haul ‘hopped’ into the heart of Loddon. It is what #21VC is all about.

What we then do is ship in, say, a dozen wireless relays into the village that will then enable us to ‘locate’ individual users as they log onto the public wifi space that will sit over one, small rural community in Norfolk. And via Addiply we can then empower local businesses to target the users within that wifi-defined space.

Say, Rosie Lee’s Tea Room – popular not with Stanford tecchies, but walkers ambling along the Wherrymans Way; or cyclists cutting through the back roads en route to the coast. And we can start to tap into the same $5.8bn market that Facebook and Google are now eyeing.

One final thought.

Way back in 2009-2010, at the behest of the then MP for Norwich South, we started to look at a metro wifi solution for the city of Norwich. It involved working with a huge communications infrastructure company whose name I probably shouldn’t repeat. It ended with ‘…cock’ Which says it all, in fairness.

It never happened. Why?

Because said kit people came into this space with a tech answer, not a consumer one.

One of the tricks to this game is gaining height; for the most effective wifi provision you need ‘masts’ of a certain height – ie on top of your nearest department store. Or church tower.

‘Knock, knock…’ went the man from ‘…cock’ on the door of, say, Jarrolds Department Store. ‘Can we acquire some space on your roof top to deliver our wifi solution?’

‘OK – and what will it actually do?’ was the standard question.

And the answer was crucial. Because the kit boys always give the wrong one. They talk in tech speak; which no-one understands; they offer uploads and download speeds; mention of megabits has the eyes glazing over…’

‘500 notes a month; and put it next to the one the fella from Orange put up last week…’

And suddenly £6,000-a-year in simply acquiring an appropriate roof space rips your business model apart.

The answer? ‘Well, put my mast on top of your shop and you can live-stream your autumn fashion show to everyone on a mobile device within 500-yards of your front door… Fancy that? Think of it as Jarrolds ‘TV’…

‘Really? That is interesting… Tell us more…

Tonight we have the cornerstone of parish ‘TV’ in place. And what Facebook are doing in Palo Alto, me, Ben, Harry, Neil, Addiply, NESTA and #21VC are doing on the streets of Loddon.


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