Although more locations than ever now offer “free” Wi-Fi, someone is paying for it in the end. See what you and your business can do to make sure your mobile employees have this near-commodity anytime it’s needed.

wi-fi, free wi-fi, free wif, ipass, smartphone, smartphones, data, mobile data, global wi-fi, global mobility, global mobility services, wi-fi network, wifi network, wi-fi networks, Next to oxygen and water, Wi-Fi—now the dominant mode of connecting—is rapidly joining the rarified ranks of things we simply cannot live without. According to a recent survey conducted by OpenSignal, some countries use Wi-Fi as the connection medium of choice nearly 75 percent of the time. Were Wi-Fi usage to be measured in MB, the percentage would be much higher.

Moreover, while countries using Wi-Fi most heavily are the usual suspects—technologically advanced nations like the Netherlands, the U.K., and Belgium—there are surprises too, like Iraq and Saudi Arabia.

Globally, smartphone users alone consume 65 percent of their data over Wi-Fi. By 2019, 60 percent of all mobile data will be transmitted over Wi-Fi. In short: when people need to get online, they are using Wi-Fi.  And they want it all the time, wherever they are.

Wi-Fi has grown so fast, not only in terms of household penetration and data migration but also of increased coverage and enhanced performance, that businesses are noticing. Their mobile employees are people who, after all, are already heavily reliant on Wi-Fi in their non-work lives. But when it comes down to it, global Wi-Fi is just as important to businesses as it is to their employees.

Businesses aim to interact with customers and employees seamlessly, and Wi-Fi offers performance, availability, and affordability without keeping businesses beholden to a single mobile network operator.

Wi-Fi reaches places that a cellular signal just cannot, like airplanes, as well as the vast regions of the world outside the range of your cell phone provider and their partners. Even in areas where cellular coverage is available, Wi-Fi makes for a better user experience, especially for high bandwidth applications, meaning users work faster.

Furthermore, cellular plans can be expensive and unpredictably priced. Plus, all those unlimited cellular plans, between device restrictions and data caps, are not actually unlimited. If you’re trying to catch that viral YouTube clip, forget about it: there’s a good chance cellular won’t have the bandwidth.

wi-fi, free wi-fi, free wif, ipass, smartphone, smartphones, data, mobile data, global wi-fi, global mobility, global mobility services, wi-fi network, wifi network, wi-fi networks,In comparison, Wi-Fi access is inexpensive. Using Wi-Fi cuts down on mobility costs and eliminates unforeseen expenses like roaming fees and overage charges.

Even though Wi-Fi is inexpensive, it is not free.

You might now be asking, isn’t there actually plenty of free Wi-Fi out there? Sure, “free” Wi-Fi is available, in many cafés or fast food restaurants, some trains, increasingly in airports and even in lower-cost hotels looking to differentiate.

But that free Wi-Fi often comes with unwieldy limitations. How many promotional videos are you willing to watch for the privilege? Maybe enough that you have to shut down to catch your flight before actually getting any work done. When it comes to free Wi-Fi, just step back into any undergraduate economics class and recall: there is no such thing as a free lunch.

Why is that? There is no question that providing Wi-Fi is costing somebody something. For context: the global Wi-Fi market is expected to top $30 billion by 2020. Given that, you can rest assured that accountants somewhere have figured out how to profit from their investment in “free” Wi-Fi.

You might not be paying that coffee shop directly for your connectivity, but they are justifying the expense of connecting you through additional income, which might come from advertising or collecting additional personal information to make it easier to contact you.

These may include special offers or other incentives, which aim to entice you to spend more money. Or it might be a bait and switch: “use our free Wi-Fi for a limited time, but if you want ‘the good stuff,’ we need your credit card.”

Either way, the larger point remains: depending on free Wi-Fi from the local coffee shop or train station isn’t a real enterprise mobility strategy. If you’re thinking about security on these free networks, hold that thought…

The high-quality, global Wi-Fi access that businesses require to keep their employees reliably connected on the go isn’t free. Global mobility services have aggregated Wi-Fi networks from myriad sources or network suppliers as no one supplier can provide truly global coverage.

Like cellular, Wi-Fi is a regional game. These regional network suppliers, large and small, have invested a lot of capital in the infrastructure needed to provide Wi-Fi to their end users, such as ongoing maintenance and support, as well as access to the internet.

The cost of their Wi-Fi investment is significant. To cite just a few examples, Brocade Communications recently acquired Wi-Fi router manufacturer Ruckus Wireless for about $1.5 billion, Cisco’s wireless-related revenue is reported to be roughly $2.5 billion per year, and in-flight Wi-Fi provider Gogo generates over half a billion dollars in annual revenue. That is a lot of money spent on something many view as free.wi-fi, free wi-fi, free wif, ipass, smartphone, smartphones, data, mobile data, global wi-fi, global mobility, global mobility services, wi-fi network, wifi network, wi-fi networks,

“Paid” global mobility providers add value through the services they offer on top of the Wi-Fi networks they bring together. Those services make it easy for mobile professionals to connect to the Internet, offering users the same experience in Boston, Budapest, or Bengaluru.

As commerce today relies on the Internet, your mobile employees cannot afford to be offline, even for a minute. You cannot afford to have your mobile employees disconnected, or wasting time locating a Wi-Fi password, sitting through a promotional video, or realizing halfway through a one-hour online meeting that free Wi-Fi was limited to 30 minutes.

Even worse, your mobile employees cannot afford the security risks associated with free Wi-Fi. Half of all free Wi-Fi networks are vulnerable to hackers. Therefore, in using free Wi-Fi, you run the risk of exposing your own personal data, as well as sensitive company information, to the unscrupulous few that find in unprotected public W-Fi a source of illicitly collected information they can resell.

With global mobility services, you keep hackers out of your company information while reducing common friction points to connecting and lowering mobility costs by diversifying away from an overreliance on cellular.

There was a time when businesses restricted employee connectivity and the use of personal mobile devices. There are still vestiges of resistance to the inevitability of a truly mobile global workforce.

Progressive companies realize that a small investment in employee connectivity returns many times over in terms of employee productivity and satisfaction. The services that enable that connectivity are not free, but they make your mobile experience better and safer. They also help to grow a more productive and satisfied workforce.

wi-fi, free wi-fi, free wif, ipass, smartphone, smartphones, data, mobile data, global wi-fi, global mobility, global mobility services, wi-fi network, wifi network, wi-fi networks,Gary Griffiths is the Chief Executive Officer of iPass, the leading provider of global mobile connectivity. Built on a software-as-a-service (SaaS) platform, the iPass cloud-based service keeps its customers connected by providing unlimited Wi-Fi connectivity on unlimited devices. iPass is the world’s largest Wi-Fi network, with more than 57 million hotspots in more than 120 countries, at airports, hotels, train stations, convention centers, outdoor venues, inflight, and more.