Boingo+Cloud Nine=Free Wi-Fi+Ads

Wi-Fi service provider and aggregator Boingo announced today is was acquiring privately held Cloud Nine Media, a Wi-Fi add network. The result is likely to be growth Wi-Fi services that are free- but supported by ads.

Boingo logoFree Wi-Fi is understandably popular with users in all manner of public places. But the quality of the service is often terrible. This shouldn’t be surprising. Providing decent internet service costs money, particularly for the backhaul connection to the network. The economics can be awful, especially if what it mostly does is fill seats with “customers” who use the network connection but don;t buy much of anything. Often the free Wi-Fi seems to exist mostly as a upsell opportunity for a paid premium service.

Cloud Nine helps solve the problem by placing a 30- to 45-second ad in front of the user before a fiull¬†network¬†connection is established. The ads can’t be fully personalized because Cloud Nine has not personal information on users, but they can be tailored closely to the venue. “We know the exact context that a user is connecting from in a way the most ad services don’t,” says Sebastian Tonkin, CEO of Cloud Nine. “If a user is connecting from an airport, there’s a very good chance he’s waiting for a flight. We can tailor the content to the scenario, for example, serving a Hipmunk ad for hotel search.

Boingo and Cloud Nine have been working together for a while. but the acquisition is likely to accelerate the rollout of ad-supported free networks. Boingo also provides subscription and fee-for-service access as well as free Wi-Fi and recently signed a contract to provide Wi-Fi connections at Wendy’s fast-food stores.