Facebook is planning on expanding the accessibility of “Find Wi-Fi,” one of their newer features. “Find Wi-Fi” allows users to search for highlighted hotspots for free, public Wi-Fi networks nearby. Up until now this feature has only been available within a limited selection of countries, and further restricted to only iOS users. After an assumingly successful test, Facebook will now roll out the feature so that both iOS and Android users worldwide will gain access to “Find Wi-Fi.”
This feature is certainly useful for travelers, providing an intuitive way of finding network hotspots while traveling for business, research, or fun. Certainly a helpful way to stay connected when entering an area with minimal cellular connection, “Find Wi-Fi” really shines as a tool in emerging markets. For emerging markets, where users often have limited data plans or unstable and inconsistent network connections. While in developed markets this feature provides an improved quality of life adjustment, for emerging markets, especially in rural areas, this could be a game changer.
The main reason for why “Find Wi-Fi” may have a large impact lies in how it works. On its interface, Facebook displays a map showing not only the closest hotspots, but also details about the businesses the provide them. This provides smaller and local businesses free positive advertising and customer turnover opportunities, considering the businesses already provide users a service through their hotspot. All the business needs to do is opt-in by claiming their Wi-Fi network, notifying Facebook of their intentions to provide a service. A simple tool for travelers may become a new front for businesses to grow.
While expensive to expand the features worldwide and across another mobile platform, the feature increases the possibility for user connection uptime, specifically to Facebook. By increasing user time spent on their app, the larger the revenue Facebook generates. There is a possibility that depending on its popularity, users will more likely rely on Facebook than Google Maps, which will further improve its bottom line. That is at least until Google responds with a similar feature, considering there is a market for it.
It is important to note that the feature may still has some reliability issues. “Find Wi-Fi” easily picks up network signals at nearby restaurants and malls, while missing out some brands that are known to provide free Wi-Fi, such as Starbucks. It is not known as to whether these businesses failed or refused to opt-in to “Find Wi-Fi,” or simply decided to rely on its own brand and pre-established reputation for providing free Wi-Fi. Another option is that Facebook refrained from adding these businesses to its feature as a means of promoting smaller businesses, while also increasing a dependency on their own feature for a loyal user base. However, which businesses are included is not as important as ensuring that those that are reliably discoverable, and do provide a free network.
One major concern to be considered is the potential security risks that could arise. Considering that the business’ hotspot acts as a beacon for Wi-Fi indigent travelers, it is not against reason that these areas will also attract seeking to take advantage should the opportunity arise. While a large distribution of hotspots will make it more difficult for such scenarios to occur, travelers must always be aware of their surroundings. Should this actually become a problem, Facebook will need to ensure a way of protecting its user’s privacy when using the app.
While “Find Wi-Fi” may be the driving force in regards to supporting users with mobile connectivity, it is certainly not Facebook’s only endeavor. The company has several large projects that are being developed, including efforts to further improve mobile connectivity in emerging markets, worldwide infrastructure investment, and solar-powered drones as mobile network hotspots.