Subsidizing Wi-Fi Access Points

I was thinking about Sputnik yesterday because I talked with Dave Sifry, CTO of Sputnik, on #joiito.  I started wondering how one might raise sales of Wi-Fi access points like Sputnik AP 120 exponentially.  Weird thought for an engineer, but I have an entrepreneur's mind at the core so it's not too strange for me to wonder about the business side.

The idea of subsidized Wi-Fi is not new, but I think the idea of AP hardware vendors doing the subsidizing has some appeal.  What if Sputnik sold these devices at a fraction of the cost for joining a global commercial Wi-Fi service network?  This is how it might work:

  1. Bob, a store owner, buys Sputnik at 1/4 of the price, plugs it in at his store, and use the installation software to register the AP with Sputnik Network.
    • The AP is configured so that only Sputnik Network members can use it. 
    • Administration, security, and account management is all handled by Sputnik Network.
  2. James, a Wi-Fi user, subscribes to World-wide Sputnik Network service for $10 per month, enabling him to use any Sputnik Network AP around the world.
    • Sputnik client software running on his laptop automatically handles authentication with each AP.
  3. AP usage is metered so Bob might receive a check each month if his AP gets a lot of traffic.

It makes no sense to require Wi-Fi users and stores to deal with the hassle of paying for access or keeping track of users.  Building a membership-based Wi-Fi Network seems too problematic without the leverage of subsidized AP hardware and the absolute control it brings.  Urgh.  I better stop here before I get to T-shirts and jingles.