Eterea — New Urban Wi-Fi Landscape, part 3: Field Research Synthesis

After the field observations it was the time to synthesize the findings to better understand the user needs and existing offer in Milan.

1. Understanding Users

Research in the city logically moved on to understanding the users in need of public connectivity. This is the point when theoretical research predictions turned to be opposite from real observations. In the previously read papers it was noticed that most of outdoor Wi-Fi users are young single white males usually with high income and high educational level. In the streets of Milan the situation turned to be different.

Not only the present Internet users were approached, but other people in the public spaces as they might be the possible future users and also give insights of what’s lacking for them to connect in the city. In the end it became clear that all the people can find themselves in need of public connectivity in different situations in life, but some are of course more regular users of it.

In the end the real “disadvantaged” users were defined as those who would like to be online more, but due to some circumstances cannot do it.

The main finding of research can be that not only some specially disadvantaged categories people use public connection. People DO need free public connectivity even with all the Wi-Fi and 3G service and without even a device to use it. Digital divide manifests itself not in the mere presence of the utility, but in the real possibilities to use it: having a device, knowing the place, being able to use the device in that place, being able to connect to the internet, being able to fulfill the tasks and understand the real value of internet connection.

User Archetypes Description:

Real disadvantaged users from the Internet connection point of view are different from how current services see them

2. Understanding Offer: Focusing on Openwifimilano

Municipal network was chosen as it is the most developed existing offer in the city. It offers so called unlimited access in sense that user can navicate with high speed up to first 300Mb of traffic downloaded, then get another hour of connection with high speed, after which speed drops till 128 kbps till next day. The number of all the hotspots spread around the city should reach more than 500, plus special digital islands were installed in different important public spaces.

So called digital islands: spots with benches, Wi-Fi, charging possibility and some additional digital services.

Lots of people use Internet in the city, but public Wi-FI gets very little percent of those users. Mostly they prefer 3G on their devices, even if the spaces provide free access exceeding most of 3G internet offers for anyone, but people either:

  • don’t know about it at all
  • don’t want to use it, because their need in it is not that extreme and they don’t wanna bother with authorization procedure every time.

In the end the use of Wi-Fi can be formulated in Usefulness/Difficulty of access balance. If the service is needed very much, user will find way to get it despite all the inconvenience in its design. The contrary is true as well — if it’s easy to access service (like when it’s automatically connecting in cafes) people tend to use it even if they had other options like 3G. In the end those elements should be always balanced.