BT will soon offer all its business-hub users the chance to become Wi-Fi hotspots for their visitors and neighbours, the firm revealed on Wednesday.
BT Business Open Wi-Fi will be an extension of the communications and IT firm's existing programme of creating "Openzones" using its residential customers' hubs — the hub being a wireless modem and router unit. However, unlike the residential programme, the business version will not utilise BT's partnership with FON, the global Wi-Fi shared-access service.
FON's approach is to have users split their personal Wi-Fi networks, offering a chosen amount of bandwidth to outside users. BT went into partnership with FON last year, pushing software upgrades into its customers' Home Hubs if they chose to sign up to the programme. In return for adding a residential footprint to BT's Openzone network, those customers got to use other users' FON hotspots on and off the BT network for free.
Speaking at the Mobile Broadband Congress in London on Wednesday, Dave Hughes, BT's director of wireless broadband, told delegates that — by the end of this week — there would be 100,000 BT Home Hub users who have signed up to turn their hub into a hotspot. However, he described FON's nature as "viral", and said the business-user community would need to be approached in a different way.
"Business customers want to provide services to visitors, whether they be guests, customers or suppliers," Hughes said, while suggesting that as many as 200,000 BT business customers may sign up to Business Open Wi-Fi.
Hughes stressed that, as with the residential version, the business-based hotspot programme would see Openzone hotspots created alongside secure private networks, and claimed the security of the business version would be "equally strong" to that of the home version. As with the home version, business users who choose to allow a hotspot on their hubs will be able to use other users' hubs as well.
Asked about BT's plans for WiMax, Hughes said the company was looking at the technology, but was unlikely to deploy it until the device ecosystem was in place. "WiMax gets interesting when there are as many WiMax devices as Wi-Fi devices," he said. "It will be several years yet, and other technologies may overtake WiMax."