Got Wi-Fi Leeches? Use It to Your Advantage

Got Wi-Fi Leeches? Use It to Your Advantage
Got Wi-Fi Leeches? Use It to Your Advantage 

By Peter P. Roosen
Tatsuya Nakagawa
December 27, 2006

Road-weary traveling sales professionals are among the growing number of 
Wi-Fi leeches, attaching to open wireless networks often without the 
owner's knowledge or permission in order to access the Internet. The 
practice has evolved from latching onto a cafe's free wireless service 
from a car in the parking lot, to drive-thru circling in hotel and motel 
parking lots. A free no-fuss way to check e-mails, confirm travel plans, 
obtain business information from the net and otherwise communicate 
efficiently is the desired result. Great for the leech, but what does it 
do for the host? It depends on how the host responds.

Wirelsss Internet service is generally a nuisance to establish with 
significant costs involved is setting up and maintaining wireless 
routers, especially for a larger hotel or motel where multiple broadcast 
points are needed. There are special staff training issues and the need 
to have someone available who can troubleshoot problems as they 
occurfrequently in most installations.

However, having Internet services available is no longer simply optional 
for most operators since many modern travelers are finding Internet 
services more important than having a telephone or television in the 
room. Some will base their decision of where to stay on the availability 
of quality Internet service, stating they require such service as a 
condition of booking into a room. The incremental cost associated with 
bandwidth lost to leeching is small or negligable in most cases.

Most places that offer Internet service present one or more of the three 
common types of barriers to prevent unwanted "leeching" by people not 
booked in as hotel guests, or buying something from one of the cafes or 
other retail businesses that provide Internet access. The three common 
barrier types are:

1. Requiring users to pay for the service.

2. Putting in a login and password system and asking users to obtain 
   access from the proprietor.

3. Soliciting user information prior to granting access.

These barriers tend to discourage the most common types of leeching and 
in the cases where the systems are regional or national by chain, after 
a while, the people who would otherwise be leeching tend to avoid these 
businesses altogether.

There are some businesses that have taken an entirely different 
approach. In a few cases, Internet access is granted without any 
restrictions or fuss and users can simply attach themselves quickly and 
easily with no cost and go about their business as they see fit. A 
notable example is the Best Western hotel chain, presently the largest 
in the world, which has many of its properties established with no-cost 
and no-fuss Internet access. This reduces the administrative burden of 
having to help each user gain access every time they book into one of 
the hotels. Travelers in need of Internet access begin to look for these 
Best Western signs along the roadways and identify them not only with 
the hotel brand but as a place to normally obtain hassle- and cost-free 
Internet access.

Naturally, if someone is seeking Internet access in the early part of 
the day while driving along the roadways, they are not likely looking 
for a room and by pulling into the empty parking lot alongside the 
building are easily identified as Wi-Fi leeches by proprietors. 
Proprietors often have different views on the subject, with some being 
openly hostile to non-paying guests obtaining free access at their 
expense. Most proprietors ignore these unexpected visitors with some at 
the opposite end of the spectrum offering a free coffee and otherwise 
welcoming these travelersa more enlightened approach from a marketing 

Experienced travelers are often creatures of habit who are looking for 
consistency, ease and simplicity in many aspects of their day-to-day 
travel activities. This is true whether or not cost is an important 
aspect of the travel. There is evidence that the Best Western open 
access policy is resulting in increased room stays from the road-weary 
Internet-hungry travelers. For example, the habit of checking e-mails 
and messages at least once a day while on the road will have these 
people pulling into parking lots at various times of the day or night 
and for various lengths of time. In some instances, such as late in the 
day when seeking accommodation for the night becomes a priority or when 
changes in travel plans become apparent from checking messages while on 
line, results in them needing to book a room. Sometimes reading and 
writing e-mails takes longer than expected, hours on occasion, and when 
the task is completed driving off to another location for a hotel 
becomes unappealing compared to getting out of the car and booking a 
room on the spot. Let's face it, the Internet access worked and value 
was derived so that has the road warrior in a positive frame of mind 
when walking up to the front desk. Similarly at a cafe.

What about local leeches? There are people who look for such convenient 
access places in their own area. Kids with laptops sneaking around to 
avoid parental controls or low-end hackers wanting to upload their 
latest trial virus across town could be among them and that is the last 
thing proprietors would want to be involved with. These concerns are 
likely exaggerated since most libraries have open access, and it has not 
become an insurmountable problem for them.

The savvy marketer would suggest try selling them something they are 
willing to pay for. The internet cafe concept was built largely on this 
idea. Maybe a drive-thru version is what is needed. Send people back out 
on roller skates like in the 1950s to offer stuff to people parked there 
food and beverages. Better yet, the solution could be as simple as an 
introduction web page that promotes the business services offered 
through the hotel and welcomes visitors to come in for a free cup of 
coffee. In any event, there are not likely to be many locals wanting or 
needing to hang out in hotel parking lots to gain wireless internet 
access. However, there is still an opportunity to incorporate a 
drive-thru model of the Internet cafe for locals and travelers alike.

Proprietors can choose to become frustrated chasing road weary traveling 
Wi-Fi leeches from their properties or view it as a marketing 
opportunity. Best Western does not appear to have advertised or 
publicized their widespread convenient and free Internet access. This 
gives a market savvy competitor a chance to capture some publicity if 
one of these chains was to create a branded drive-in Wi-Fi zone catered 
to these new aged road warriors. Install it in part of the existing 
parking lot, perhaps marking and marketing this special space. Welcome 
users who may become interested in spending a night there. Turn the 
leeching relationship into a symbiotic one.


Peter P. Roosen has an engineering background and founded numerous 
companies including firms involved in locomotive and plastics 
manufacturing, computer software and marketing. Tatsuya Nakagawa is 
president and CEO of Atomica Creative in Vancouver Canada, a strategic 
product marketing company. He has assisted numerous companies in diverse 
industries with their early stage deployments and product launches in 
North America, Europe and Asia. Atomica Creative Group is a specialized 
strategic product marketing firm positioned to help companies assess 
their R&D processes relative to market drivers and establish a marketing 
strategy led approach so that R&D spending can be applied rationally for 
greater returns on these important investments.

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