Free Wi-FiImagine having Wi-Fi everywhere you went. No more dead zones, slow network speeds, or worrying about breaching your data limit. Facebook wants to make this a reality in retailers across the nation. No longer just a staple of coffee shops, Facebook wants to spread Wi-Fi to all shops and restaurants, making mobile internet connectivity easy and free from spotty cell phone networks.

What’s the catch?

Of course, you are wondering, what’s the catch?  In line with its “free-forever” strategy, Facebook will make this proposal a reality by only requiring store-goers to sign in with Facebook. Once you sign in to Facebook on the retailer’s Wi-Fi, you will automatically be taken to the store’s Facebook page, but will be free to browse thereafter. The tradeoff here is obvious. Facebook receives valuable data about where you frequent, while the retailer gets free publicity (if you set the check-ins to public) on your Facebook page as well as traffic on its own Facebook page. Built on the same business model Facebook currently has involving collecting data to help advertisers reach its target customer, this is a great deal for Facebook users looking for free Wi-Fi.

A passport to the internet

Beyond access to fast, reliable internet, this test-phase initiative of Facebook’s is illustrative of two trends in social media. First, a personal Facebook account is becoming more than just a way to connect with friends, but also a passport to the internet. Facebook integration with other websites is at an all time high, with “likes” proliferating and Facebook often hosting comment sections. Along with this new development in Wi-Fi, it is clear that a Facebook account is becoming necessary in order to take full advantage of the web. Like going to a sports bar without an ID, where you can watch the game but not take part in game day festivities; accessing the internet without a Facebook account will also diminish the ability to enjoy it.

Being a social retailer

Second, this development stresses just how important being social is for a company. Just five years ago, such a Wi-Fi deal would have seemed ridiculous. However, increasing the number and visibility of customer check-ins to drive traffic and sales through this partnership with Facebook doesn’t seem so far-fetched. In fact, there is little doubt that many retailers and restaurants would take part in this deal, judging by the popularity of Four-Square. And although this Wi-Fi partnership is only in its test-phase, it represents the popularity and deserved ubiquity of it as well.