Google goes big with free Wi-Fi campaign

Google(s goog) is getting more aggressive when it comes to using public Wi-Fi as a promotional tool. It’s targeting another 4,000 hotspots around the country with free access through a new deal with Boingo(s wifi).

Google is buying sponsorship on Boingo’s managed network, allowing the free access to anyone after they first view an initial Google Play splash screen. But there’s a difference between this one and previous promotions. The campaign only targets laptop and Android users so if you connect to the network with an iPhone, iPad(s aapl) or Windows Phone(s msft) device, you will wind up paying the hotspot owner’s normal rates.

Last month, Google and Boingo announced they were expanding their free-Wi-Fi trial from New York to malls around the country, but today’s addition includes hotels, restaurants, shopping centers and even 15 major airports. “This kind of widespread sponsorship buy is remarkable,” said Sebastian Tonkin, former CEO of Cloud Nine Media who joined Boingo last month when the hotspot operator bought his company. While there have been several companies experimenting with sponsorship models at individual airports or at other locales, no one has really yet launched a nationwide campaign like Google, he said.

Tonkin said both hotspot owners and advertisers are intrigued by these new sponsorship models as they provide much higher per-ad fees for the former, and they deliver a captive audience for the latter. Rather than deliver ads through browser pop-ups customers can easily ignore, sponsored ads dominate the login screen when a customer first connects the network, Tonkin said.

Wi-Fi image courtesy of Flickr user suttonhoo