Surfing the Free WiFi Wave

(This article was originally published in April via the Bimoo app)


With the release of Bimoo rapidly approaching, our team decided to take a moment and pay GRATITUDE to the infrastructure forethought that has made our own dream a reality. Special thanks to Melanie Jones of Lex Caribbean and a pillar champion of the Barbados Entrepreneurship Foundation (BEF), for accepting our interview request to help shape our understanding of the initiative – past, present and future.

Ahhh, the endless waves of sunshine, breeze and rhythmic melody are the hallmarks of yet another day in paradise. However today, I would like you to grab your surf board and steady your gait for an experiential ride compliments of nationwide free Wi-Fi.

Free Wi-Fi really?

Like you, my initial reaction to the Facebook advertisement of the 11.11.11 initiative was one of disbelieve, followed by deep excitement. Lo and behold this tiny island was boldly planning their own November 2011 mission to moon with unshakable audacity. The proclamation stated a desire to deliver free Wi-Fi as the fuel to economic and social prosperity, and in so doing, transform Barbados into the entrepreneurial hub of the world by 2020. But before we jump ahead to what this means to YOUR rightful share of fun in the sun, lets take a quick trip back to the AHA moment!

Of small steps and giant leaps

The time was 2009 and the island found itself in a state of malice – a culprit of the economic downturn gripping Europe, North America and the world at large. Where should we turn? What should we do? These questions were the subjects of many discussions on the minds of individuals, businesses and government advocacy groups. It was at this time that Damian McKinney, Founder and CEO of McKinney Rogers International, proposed that Barbados should be the first nation to offer free Wi-Fi throughout.

The mission that would later become the 11.11.11 initiative was formally crafted at the inaugural meeting of the BEF in November 2010. The concept of “free” access to all users was one of the central tenants from the start. The late Prime Minister, David Thompson, described the notion of Barbados as a place where people could freely access the internet using WiFi, from bus stop to rum shop. The boldness of the initiative was in keeping with the island’s history of being the first Caribbean nation to introduce piped water back in 1861.

Pounding the pavement

The all volunteer movement pounded the pavement and the initiative received very favorable backing with an endorsement from the government and the public at large – 16,000 votes were recorded on the Wi-NOT Facebook page.

The culmination of all this hard work was the green light on November 11, 2011, with 60% coverage up from about 4% prior to inception. To date, the efforts of the BEF and its volunteers have resulted in the seeding of 134 free Wi-Fi hotspots with 1 to 2 km mushroom access areas. The penetration is at a level of 74% and growing each day.

Melanine Jones - BEF Summit 2011

Melanine Jones – BEF Summit 2011

The cornerstone decision to use a private sector approach, with local businesses donating a piece of their bandwidth, has allowed the initiative to flourish and provides a built-in inoculation from setbacks that might otherwise have arisen from a central authority. Hotels such as Bougainvillea have contributed a portion of their network to benefit locals and guest alike with excellent feedback. This is only one such example of the many businesses that have answered the call to serve.

With great power comes…

Great Responsibility! Yep, leave it to spiderman to teach us live lessons! But what does all of this have to do with my perfect dream vacation in Barbados? Glad you ask. Great Indecision is a more fitting coin to the phrase when the subject is vacation and what should I do today?

All the pre-trip planning and advice from family and friends is no substitute for up to minute actionable information when you have arrived and the clock has started to tick. However, this is the precise time when access to information is most scarce and roaming charges are most prevalent. Wi-Fi support in hotels is a common feature in most parts of the world but do YOU really want to be confined to a hotel room while in paradise? I didn’t think so!

You demand access to relevant information at the beach, in town and while moving around. But who do I ask? Does this person share my same dream for fun and adventure or blissful relaxation? This is where the Wi-Fi initiative really shines for tourists. No longer are you limited to a few chance encounters with fellow vacationers in the hotel lobby and pool side. You are now able to break the shackles of the immaculate wall gardens and reach a vast array of travelers who are present on the island and are actively exploring and accessing newly found opportunities.

What if we could learn from the discoveries and experiences of others who have just return from their most recent outing this afternoon and are eager to share? With free Wi-Fi anywhere and everywhere, you too can now claim your rightful share of the vacation pie in a more fun and engaging manner.

Where do we go from here?

Barbados is leading the world in being the first nation to provide free Wi-Fi access throughout. The sky is the limit but time is of earnest. Australia is only now pushing their hotels to offer free in room access to alleviate exorbitant charges face by guests. Ireland is advocating its private sector to invest in free Wi-Fi to meet visitor demand. What this means is that other nations will catch up and rather quickly.

The BEF and its tireless volunteers have laid the infrastructure foundation. Now it is time for businesses and the government to step up to the plate and start engaging with tourist in a manner, time and most importantly, the location of their choosing. The end promise of this cooperation is the realization of YOUR full share of the vacation pie!

OK, I am off to ride the wave! The Watsons’ have just shared a review of their fabulous tour of the island this morning and Sue & Jeff are raving about their deep dive adventure into the abyss.

For more information about the free Wi-Fi initiative visit the BEF website.



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