Boingo Wireless, Google team up to offer free Wi-Fi

Google is giving almost everyone a back-to-school special by sponsoring free Wi-Fi at more than 4,000 public hotspots across the U.S. including airports, cafes, hotels, and shopping malls. But it appears you'll need a device compatible with Google Play content to get online for free, meaning that owners of iOS, BlackBerry, and Windows Phone devices could be left out of the wireless free for all. The free Wi-Fi will be provided by Boingo Wireless and feature Google Plays ads when you login. The promotion begins this week and lasts until the end of September.

It's not clear where all the free locations will be, but high-profile locations slated for Wi-Fi include 15 airports such as John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York and Chicago O'Hare, as well as select New York City subway stations in Manhattan.

As with all freebies there appears to be a small catch to the Google Play free Wi-Fi giveaway: your device needs to be able to download movies, music, apps, books, or other content from Google Play. “Wi-Fi users with Android phones and tablets, as well as Windows and Macintosh laptops, will be offered complimentary Wi-Fi at thousands of high-traffic locations in dozens of cities nationwide,” Boingo said in a statement.

That sure sounds like iPhones, iPads, and other non-Google Play compatible devices won't be enjoying Boingo's Wi-Fi network for free anytime soon. It could, however, just be a case of marketing copy that was a little too smartly written for its own good.

It seems ludicrous to exclude users from free Wi-Fi, no matter who is sponsoring the courtesy feature. Giving iOS users and others the digital finger could result in some blow back from angry Google users who happen to prefer non-Android mobile devices.

Then again, it makes perfect sense for Google to target only potential Play customers using Windows and Mac laptops, or Android smartphones and tablets. It's also interesting that the Google Play sponsorship deal, announced by Boingo, comes just one day before Apple is expected to roll out a new iPhone and possibly a miniature iPad to compete with Google's Nexus 7 tablet and the Kindle Fire HD.

It's unlikely a few weeks of free Wi-Fi would keep anyone from buying a new iOS toy, but it does help bolster Google's image as the company that likes to showers users with free stuff. The search giant gives away free devices to developers during its annual Google I/O conference, it often supplies free Wi-Fi at airports nationwide during the holiday season, and it offers free online services such as Gmail, Google Docs, and Google Drive.

The Google Play promotion is Boingo's first major campaign since the Wi-Fi provider's August acquisition of Cloud Nine Media, a company specializing in online advertising via Wi-Fi access points. Earlier in the summer, Boingo and Google offered free Wi-Fi in New York City featuring sponsorship advertising from Google Offers.

For comprehensive coverage of the Android ecosystem, visit Greenbot.com.

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