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O2 plans free WiFi for all in UK

27 января 2011

O2 detailed plans to roll out a network of public WiFi hotspots in the U.K. that will be free to use to its customers and those of other mobile and broadband providers.

The move comes as O2's existing WiFi hotspot partner The Cloud reportedly prepares to be taken over by U.K. satellite TV and broadband provider BSkyB; the latter is expected to announce the acquisition as early as this week.

"O2 is aiming to create a scaled WiFi platform that will be at least double the number of premium hotspots currently offered by BT Openzone and The Cloud combined by 2013," the mobile operator revealed in a statement.

O2 appears to be using the term "premium" public hotspots to differentiate its service from lower-capacity residential connections and those facilitated by BT's FON network (the latter essentially segments a BT residential user's WiFi access point to allow public access as well as access for the subscriber's household).

Prior to Wednesday's announcement, O2 offered its customers access to 7,500 public WiFi hotspots offered by BT Openzone and The Cloud, thus it is likely this number it aims to "at least double". BT Openzone claims to have 2 million-plus WiFi hotspots, a milestone it reached in November, although the majority of these are FON access points.

Still, O2 has some way to go before its new service comprises tens of thousands of hotspots. The telco's first step will see it replace its existing 450 The Cloud hotspots in retail and office locations.

O2's plan is in line with a growing trend in the industry that sees mobile operators more willing to explore data traffic offload options as their networks struggle to cope with increasing demand. Indeed, O2's customers brought the company bad press in 2009 when many complained about poor network quality; at the time the telco was the sole provider of the iPhone in the U.K. Making WiFi access easier should steer more customers away from the over-burdened macro networks.

"Only 20% of people who have access to free public WiFi on O2 tariffs actively use it despite the majority of devices being WiFi-enabled," said Tim Sefton, director of new business development at O2. "Customers are discouraged by barriers which include complexity in activation, uncertainty of where WiFi is free and the variable quality of the current experience."

The new service, which will be known simply as O2 WiFi, will feature a one-time sign-up process. Furthermore, the sign-up process will be autoprovisioned for all O2 customers with WiFi devices by the end of the year.

While giving free and easy WiFi access to its own customers is something of a no-brainer, the U.K. mobile operator has been less clear on the rationale behind offering free services to non-O2 users.

O2's assertion that "it will continue to extend the reach and scale of O2 WiFi through partnerships with strategic venues, to include shops, restaurants, retail outlets and outdoor and indoor locations across the U.K." led to talk of an advertising-funded model, but the telco says that is not strictly the case.

"You could use O2 WiFi at your favourite restaurant and get a discount on the meal you love," said O2's U.K. CEO Ronan Dunne in a blogpost.

Finally, also on Wednesday – buried at the end of its O2 WiFi announcement – O2 revealed that it will increase investment in its mobile network by 25% this year, although it provided scant details.

"These investments will allow O2 to offer customers access to a suite of layered technologies, including 2G, EDGE, 3G, 4G, HSPA+ and WiFi," the company said. It did not specify how much the WiFi portion will cost.


Источник: Total Telecom

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