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Facebook's check-in based free Wi-Fi rolling out nationally with Cisco's help

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Facebook Android login screen (stock)
Facebook Android login screen (stock)

Last year, Facebook began trialing a novel approach to Wi-Fi: it gave consumers free access to high-speed internet in exchange for checking in at a business. Starting today, it's expanding that initiative even further with the help of Cisco. The two companies are collaborating on what's being called CMX for Facebook Wi-Fi. That branding is a bit of a mouthful, but for end users it's largely the same experience. When you visit a participating retailer, hotel, or other business, hopping onto Wi-Fi is as easy as joining the local network and checking in with your Facebook account. For users, it offers a near-instantaneous login process that gets them browsing faster. "We like to think of everything first and foremost from the user perspective," Facebook's Erick Tseng tells The Verge. He says the company decided it could improve upon the convoluted Wi-Fi sign-in process that's prevalent at so many coffee shops and other gathering spots.

Businesses stand to gain even more, as they'll have access to aggregate anonymous user demographics that include age, gender, hometown, likes, dislikes, and native language. "Using Facebook Insights, you can now go deep into understanding who these people are who are physically walking into your store," Tseng said. "It allows you to not only to reach out to those individuals who have physically come to your store before, but also target people that are like them and expand your marketing reach."


Even before today's announcement, Facebook Wi-Fi has been installed at over 1,000 merchants in over 50 countries, but the social network still sees huge room for growth. "Our vision is that every business in the world who have people coming in and visiting should have Facebook Wi-Fi," says Tseng. Businesses interested in participating can reach out to Cisco for more information. It's not necessarily a cheap endeavor: merchants must pay for the equipment and bandwidth themselves, but for many businesses, the data they take back may make Facebook Wi-Fi worth the investment.