CeBIT09: McDonalds' free wifi users soak up seating

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CeBIT09: McDonalds' free wifi users soak up seating

McDonalds has earmarked potential changes to seating plans in some restaurants to prevent free wifi users from monopolising seating, particularly in peak periods.

Anthony Rosenkowitz, IT project manager at McDonalds Australia, said the restaurant chain had exceeded one million user sessions on its free wifi service since launching it in November 2008.

It is on track to hit 3.9 million user sessions before the end of the year, he said.

In the first month since the initial rollout to 92 per cent of restaurants was completed, it recorded some 305,000 sessions. That number grew by 15,000 sessions in the current month, pointing to the service's increasing popularity.

The average session time is around 35 minutes "whereas an average patron would normally spend around 10 minutes in the restaurant", he said.

But it appears not everyone is happy with the ‘stickiness' of customers to some stores.

Its advantages - including that no purchase is necessary, that there are no time constraints on usage (capped at 50MB per session) and that no voucher codes are required to log on - are leading to a key disadvantage - that there is often less seating available to customers who only come to the restaurant to eat.

"We've had some feedback from licensees about people [using wifi] sitting across all the benches and sitting there too long," Rosenkowitz said.

"We'll address it. We may have to demarcate some space for wifi and space for regular customers. It's an issue we'll have to work around."

Rosenkowitz also said the chain was considering offering a premium service that would offer users an increased download capacity.

"Maybe purchasers will have to fund that," he said.

Early studies of the user base indicated that many were transient users - for example, city office workers in CBD restaurants, as well as travellers.

"A lot of people seem to be coming into Maccas to conserve the data limits on their 3G plans by using our service instead," Rosenkowitz said.

"There's also strong wifi session counts on weekends, which indicates a lot of recreational usage."

Rosenkowitz said the IT systems behind the wifi network - put together by earthwave and integrated by redbridge - detect operating system and device type information from each user session, but he said that McDonalds "don't harvest that information".

The wifi service is backed by a secure internet gateway product from wholesaler earthwave called Clean Pipes, which is there in part to apply McDonalds' Family Friendly policies to the service.

It had so far not detected any major ‘red flag' sessions that had to be reported to law enforcement authorities, a representative of earthwave said.

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