GoZone WiFi has quietly launched free WiFi service throughout St. Petersburg’s Edge District.
The initiative gives visitors to the district easy access to WiFi while allowing businesses to learn more about their customers and send them coupons and other offers so they will make return visits. The Edge Business District Association can track devices to measure traffic in the area, determining attendance and other key metrics for events.
The free WiFi service was a passion project for Todd Myers, CEO of GoZone WiFi, a serial entrepreneur who fell in love with St. Petersburg and moved his company here from south Florida a little over a year ago.
GoZone WiFi is a Software as a Service company that monetizes public WiFi networks, such as those in malls, restaurants, bars, stadiums and brick and mortar businesses. The company gets licensing fees from its customers and provides them data about their guests. The software is in use in 14 countries and at events such as major golf championships.
“This particular project is not designed to make revenue for GoZone,” Myers said during a presentation at 1 Million Cups St. Petersburg Wednesday. “This is a community offering that is a passion of mine, to make it easy for people to use WiFi.”
The program solves a problem faced by many travelers and other visitors, Myers said.
“The problem for WiFi in public arenas is it’s difficult. You’ve got to ask the manager what’s the password, you have to look it up, sometimes it’s cryptic. It’s annoying to say the least, not to mention the fact with security concerns these days we want to make sure it’s a nice network name — Bob’s Café versus Bob Hacker WiFi network,” Myers said.
GoZone solved that problem by putting WiFi boxes in several locations throughout the Edge District, the area bounded by 1st Avenues North and South and by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and 16th Streets. They replaced individual businesses’ guest WiFi. The GoZoneWiFi-Free network is easy to use and does not require a password, Myers said.
Guests can log in through their social media accounts or their email. The system does not collect personal information beyond what is publicly available on social media networks, if they are used to login. The only information retained is the MAC (media access control) address of a specific device, so that the guest can be identified on a return visit.
“If you put in your social media information, the business can go into our platform and access that information — first and last name, birthdate, gender — whatever is public in your social login. They can set up campaigns in our system to send you coupons and draw you back in. That’s where it’s a win for the business, because they can draw you back in and promote commerce. They want to understand who their customers are,” Myers said.
In the seven weeks the Edge District WiFi network has been up and running, there have been about 3,500 connections to the network, all without advertising it or announcing it publicly.
Businesses are excited by the network, said Barbara Voglewede, executive director of the Edge District. It’s more efficient, and does not present the visual pollution or physical space requirements that other ways of advertising in the district could require.
“For us, it’s a wonderful, exciting amenity for the district to offer to get people to engage and add to their comfort level and stay time,” Voglewede said.
Two Edge District businesses — UPC Insurance and the Goldman Wetzel law firm — are sponsors for the network and have advertisements on the log-in screen. The Edge District program cost about $10,000 to set up. Using the sponsor model, Myers would like to replicate the free WiFi program in other Main Street Districts in St. Petersburg and eventually expand to the 1,600 Main Street Districts throughout the United States.
He hopes to make an official launch announcement on World WiFi Day, June 20, a worldwide initiative to bridge the digital divide.
GoZone is five years old and not the typical startup that presents at 1 Million Cups, a weekly gathering to highlight young companies and entrepreneurs. But the Edge District WiFi program is new and is drawing a lot of interest, ranging from the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (who Myers met at a conference recently) to chipmaker Intel to Mayor Rick Kriseman, Myers said.
“Mayor Kriseman likes the concept because it’s giving easy, more secure guest WiFi to the community with no taxpayer dollars, and there’s valuable information gathered from it.”