Irish SMEs are racing to attract customers with WiFi and internet access, new figures show. The number of WiFi hotspots in Ireland has almost doubled in the past year as SMEs try to keep smartphone-using customers on their premises.
According to statistics from the telecoms regulator, Comreg, the number of WiFi hotspots in Ireland has increased by 84pc to 2,655 places as cafes, hotels and retailers try to give tech-savvy consumers a way of checking Facebook and email on the move.
The growth in hotspots comes as a response to the amount of time retail customers are spending online at public WiFi hotspots. According to Comreg, this now stands at 2.9 million minutes per day – a rise of 171pc over the same period last year.
Part of the increase is due to a rapid expansion in Eircom's public WiFi scheme, which the company markets in tandem with its phone or broadband services.
The head of the country's largest WiFi operator by traffic, Bitbuzz, said that changing consumer habits had forced retailers to deploy WiFi as a sales-retention tactic.
"We're dealing with a lot of marketing executives in retailers and hotels who want to find out more about the customers in their stores," said Shane Deasy.
"One of our clients, Failte Ireland, gives free WiFi on condition that the user answers a few simple questions, such as where they're from. They can then use this information as intelligence that may help to influence how they target markets."
Mr Deasy said that offering WiFi affords other means of extracting value from customers.
"If you look at what Costa Coffee do here, they give free WiFi to customers who have a loyalty card," he said.
Mr Deasy said Irish consumers are using WiFi less for email and more for social media and media streaming.
"It's changed an awful a lot," he said. "We're finding that Netflix has gone through the roof in usage, especially in the hotel sector. People are coming to hotels with their own devices, frequently two or three at a time. They're consuming content they've signed up to themselves."
He added that there are no signs of a slowdown in the WiFi-connection market in Ireland.
"We're doing more traffic in a day than we would have in a month," he said. "Now we're even connecting fibre into coffee shops."
Most Irish WiFi hotspots require payment or registration, while a minority of spots offer free access with no registration.
A recent survey by Eircom revealed that 53pc of Irish adults now have a smartphone, while a third of Irish households have access to a tablet such as an iPad.