Shared Wi-Fi needn’t be anonymous: Gowex builds a social hotspot network in NYC

If you’re taking advantage of a coffee shop’s free Wi-Fi, you’ve already established a digital connection to that business. Why not use that link to be communicate with it? That’s the question that Spanish wireless ISP Gowex is asking, and it plans on delivering an answer in December in New York City.

Gowex has built a network of public, free hotspots in 80 major cities with the cooperation and support of their municipal governments. In September, Gowex set up shop in in NYC, but it didn’t just target the Midtown and downtown hot zones. It deployed 2,000 hotspots in lesser known commercial corridors in all five boroughs. Anyone who installs Gowex’s iPhone or Android app and registers can instantly connect to the hotspots as well as Gowex’s networks in cities around the world.

We2 Gowex appBut Gowex wanted to expand the scope of the network beyond outdoor hotspots and into buildings, so it came up with the idea of inviting businesses to join its free network, Gowex general manager Carlos Gómez Vendrell said in an interview. To entice those businesses, it decided to launch We2, which amounts to a location-based social network in their establishments. When customers log into a business access point, they can see and communicate with the proprietor and other customers, Gómez Vendrell said.

“In the same way Facebook is creating a social network around friends and family and LinkedIn around your professional life, We2 creates a social network based on what’s around you,” Gómez Vendrell said.

We’ll have to wait until the We2 launches on Dec. 15 to see all of the details, but based on the early screen shots and Gowex’s app, it looks like there will be a lot more features than peer-to-peer communications, such as the ability to share photos and redeem coupons at a business. Gómez Vendrell, however, said there will be a means for users to preserve their privacy on the network if they choose.

Wi-Fi is becoming free in many more places in the U.S., but businesses who share their broadband seem to be angling for something in return. Earlier this month, Cisco Systems(s csco) and Facebook announced a program that allows Wi-Fi users to log into access points with their social network credentials, sharing their demographic data with businesses in the process.