Greenfields Franchise Group, a coffee shop chain based in Tshwane, Pretoria, is the latest to offer its service "free" to customers (you have to order from its menu, of course), and claims to be the first to do so, writes Carel Alberts of ItWeb. But this is not a new thing. Similar efforts have been made by the likes of Intel (Nino’s, Sandton), Witel (Butcher Shop, Sandton) and Naspers, in their internal coffee shop. However, few if any have advertised widely, perhaps a result of this muddled business environment and the fragmented, small-time nature of existing rollouts.

Another separate issue, not a factor in this offering, is the fear of encroachment on the domain of the carrier and value-added networks (VANs). Since Greenfields and its partners, Internet service provider X-DSL and equipment vendor Interexcel, are not offering wireless in any other space than inside the shop, the usual revenue-sharing uncertainties and legal complexities have been eliminated.

"We stay away from satellite provision, not having the licence and not wishing to enter into that particular arena, which we understand to be Telkom’s, the VANs’ and others’ domain," says Martin van Dyk, X-DSL director. Hence, the models that deal with provision over public areas do not apply in this case.

Similarly, Greenfields Franchise Group MD Adrian Storm says the coffee shop does not venture beyond its own premises in the offering of the service. The company pays R800 per month for an ADSL broadband connection through Telkom and several hundreds of rands for Internet access from X-DSL, and writes the cost off to marketing. "It is worth our while in added indirect sales to offer this, and we give a certain portion of the income to our suppliers," he says.

"We also charge a nominal fee for a wireless network card if your laptop isn’t Wifi-enabled, and additional benefits to us and our partners include the marketing of our service." Greenfields will roll out in Tshwane as Telkom’s ADSL rollout progresses.