Fancy UK sandwich shop Pret A Manger announced that it will offer free Wi-Fi at about 170 of its stores across the UK starting today.
And while municipal Wi-Fi is dying an ugly, premature death in the United States, China is working on making the entire city of Beijing a giant free-Wi-Fi hotspot by 2011.
The airlines lately have been rolling out Wi-Fi that is the opposite of free: They charge way too much for it (there are few monopolies as perfect as the provision of wireless networking at 35,000 feet). However, Delta plans to start offering Wi-Fi on its puddle-jumper shuttle flights tomorrow. To promote the new service, they'll offer the Wi-Fi free for the next two weeks.
Meanwhile, an open source Wi-Fi service called WeFi now claims 10 million hotspots worldwide.
As more free Wi-Fi hotspots emerge, customers increasingly expect Wi-Fi to be free.
Of course, there's no such thing as a free hotspot. Somebody's got to pay for it. Increasingly, however, companies are folding in the costs of supporting a Wi-Fi network into the operations budget, and spreading the costs across all customers. I think this is a good thing.
My belief is that the demand for free Wi-Fi is driven at least as much by the hassle factor as it is the cost factor. People just want to fire up their laptops or iPhone and be online. As Wi-Fi devices, including the iPhone, BlackBerry Bold and ubiquitous netbooks go mainstream, the provision of free Wi-Fi just makes sense for business of all stripes.