The twinkle of the holiday season is already upon us as companies are climbing over each other to pick up the tab for Wi-Fi access at hotspots that typically charge a fee, including two of the most expensive venues: on planes and at airports.
In unrelated sponsorship deals, eBay, Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo are providing free access to various networks and services over the next few weeks and months.
- Free airport Wi-Fi from Google. Google is sponsoring network access at 47 airports from 10 November 2009 to 15 January 2010, although a few of these airports already provide free service. On top of the sponsorship, Google offers a photo contest and up to $250,000 in matching donations for cash gifts made to selected charities through Google Checkout at the airport.
- Free Wi-Fi access on all Virgin America flights from Google during the same period.
- Free Delta in-flight Wi-Fi via eBay. From 24 November 2009 to 30 November 2009, eBay is sponsoring free Wi-Fi on Delta flights; Delta has about 250 Wi-Fi-equipped planes in its fleet.
- MSNBC recently rounded up a number of other, more limited free or discounted deals, too, including a 2-for-1 deal from AirTran (buy one session, then get the next free).
- Free airport and hotel access from Microsoft Bing. To promote the Bing search service, Microsoft partnered with JiWire - a firm for which I've worked and consulted - to offer sponsored access to hotel and airport hotspots. A Bing search is required to get the free service. The specific hotspots aren't being disclosed, unfortunately, but you'll know it when you see the promotion.
- Times Square in New York City from Yahoo. Yahoo is underwriting a year's worth of free outdoor Wi-Fi in Times Square starting 10 November 2009, just in time for holiday shopping and festivities.
Other travelers may already have free access at many for-fee hotspots in the United States, including subscribers to AT&T DSL, fiber (U-Verse), and laptop 3G services; Cablevision (its coverage area only); Qwest (via AT&T's hotspots); and most T-Mobile phone data subscribers. AT&T iPhone subscribers also get free Wi-Fi at AT&T hotspots, but only via the iPhone.