Nintendo Building Huge Wi-Fi Network To Encourage Game Use
By Mike Masnick, Wed May 11 00:00:00 GMT 2005

While others struggle over reasons to build Wi-Fi hotspot networks, Nintendo is building a huge network in Japan to get more people playing games on its Nintendo DS device. It's a perfect example of using a free service as a promotional vehicle.

Ever since Wi-Fi became popular, there's been a mixed reaction to attempts to build up networks of hotspots. The first attempts mostly concerned trying to build up a big enough network that people would pay to access it (the direct revenue model). This has proven to be a difficult model to support, though a few offerings have been able to keep going. A more successful model has been to offer Wi-Fi for free, as an enticement to attract more customers to an entirely unrelated business -- often involving food. Coffee shops, restaurants and delis have all been installing Wi-Fi to attract more customers, but some wonder why food service businesses want to become ISPs. More recently, the various Wi-Fi offerings have been larger scale, with many of them being of the controversial municipally supported networks designed to increase connectivity of the citizenry, or to promote a downtown business district.

Nintendo, though, may have come up with a much more compelling reason to build a huge Wi-Fi network. While Nintendo's plans to let people play games against others using the Nintendo DS using its built in Wi-Fi, the company is getting less attention for its plan to help make that process even easier. The DS, released last year, let people near each other play across a network, but will soon be releasing games that let players play over the Internet from any Wi-Fi hotspot. Wi-Fi Networking News points out that Nintendo plans to build a free Wi-Fi network with 1,000 access points in Japan, designed so that the DS can easily connect to any of the hotspots without having to deal with configuration issues or passwords.

While many of the free coffee shop and restaurant networks have been called successful, there have always been some doubters about the real payoff of such networks. However, Nintendo's use of a free network has a direct connection to what they're selling, and is both an obvious promotion for the DS, as well as a differentiator in an increasingly competitive market. It's a reminder that offering something for free can often have a huge promotional impact for a business.