Why asking employees to use free Wi-Fi on the road is an expensive thing to do


A new study from Rethink Technology Research, sponsored by connectivity specialists iPass, has found North American and European business travellers wasted at least £855 million in connectivity charges while travelling in 2014.

Of that £855m, almost one third (£275m) of that number came from trips within Europe, while £243m came from Europeans travelling outside of Europe, and £337m from North Americans travelling internationally.

“Our findings are clear: free Wi-Fi does not provide the simplicity, convenience and security that today’s business travellers require,” the report notes. “When you consider the impact on worker productivity, the notion of free quickly disappears.”

The average data usage for a business traveller, per day in 2015, adds up to 759.45MB – four times greater than a few years ago. Checking email collects on average 12MB while web browsing is 29.25MB. The bulk of the juice, naturally, comes through Skype (225MB on average for mobile calls, 337MB for video conferencing) or the likes of WebEx or GoToMeeting (67.5MB). Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp make up just over 25MB.

Rethink notes it was “surprised” to see that level of increase, however noting several factors for the increase: the proliferation of email to more frequently include presentations, video and images; the greater prevalence of cloud applications in terms of email, storage and CRM; a rising use of voice over Wi-Fi; and web conferencing.

Peter White, principal analyst and founder of Rethink, says asking an employee to use a free Wi-Fi service is one of the most expensive things you can do. “There are long periods, like In-Flight, where they cannot work, or where they are wandering around looking for a free connection,” he explained. “Around 50% of hotels who say they offer free Wi-Fi charge a premium for a service fast enough to actually work on.

“Employees forced to go down this route certainly won’t be as productive as they should be, and they may well feel underappreciated and be more likely to leave,” he added.

It’s worth noting at this point the EU data roaming charges, due to be shelved by June 2017, are unlikely to change things, according to Rethink. The researchers argue a conservative estimate of £34 for a European data bundle of 4.5GB. If roaming is abolished, they say it is “very likely” operators would still charge at least that amount to allow a business traveller to increase their data plans.

Regular readers of this publication will know that the question of what counts as employer-liable data bills or not has gained renewed vigour with the BYOD revolution. Telecoms expense management has long been around, even if it means thumbing through a phone bill call by call with the accounts department. A ruling in August last year meant a California company had to reimburse their employees with work calls made on personal phones.

If employees need free Wi-Fi and there isn’t any about, they could do worse than to use the Cubefree app from Citrix, which shows them where the nearest Wi-Fi spot is. There are even partnerships with cafés, where ‘mobile worker friendly’ stickers are put up so you’re not guilty about nursing a coffee and ragging the Wi-Fi after two hours. Cubefree is mentioned in the Rethink report under cloud applications which drive Wi-Fi levels up.

Naturally, iPass’ secure network of wireless hotspots aims to solve the potential issue of sensitive information being exposed in a public Wi-Fi network. The truth is, however, that employees on the road are willing to rack up monumental costs because they need to get their work done – and as it stands, there’s an £855m bill hanging over it.


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