Julian Priest has written an excellent report on the state of "Wireless London" -- the wheres and hows of WiFi in the city.
The reason that it has been possible to operate freenetwork access point type nodes without charge is that once the equipment is installed, the incremental cost of allowing others to use it is very low. If you are already paying for network access for yourself, and have installed a wireless network, the additional cost of offering it to the public is negligible. The initial hardware costs are also low, at less than 100 GBP for an access point, and with running costs of 25 GBP per month it makes for a very affordable system.
However, commercial hotspots are faced with significantly more costs over and above the minimal equipment and networking costs, such as a billing infrastructure, help desks, credit checking, location payments, maintenance contracts, share holder dividends and marketing, to name a few. This is inevitably reflected in prices charged for the service.
It remains to be seen how these commercial models burdened with such overheads will compete with the freenetworking ones, and whether the marketing spend, and the strategy of local monopoly will be justified by the returns.
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