O2 has announced a deal to provide free Wi-Fi to Costa coffee shops, which it says is "the UK’s largest coffee shop chain". With O2 already providing Wi-Fi access in McDonald's, Café Rouge, All Bar One and other outlets, it is increasing the competition with BT's OpenZone and The Cloud. BSkyB-owned The Cloud supplies many Caffè Nero, Pret A Manger, EAT, Pizza Express and other outlets, and used to provide free Wi-Fi in McDonald's.
O2's announcement today, Friday, doesn't mention how many of Costa's outlets will get free Wi-Fi, or when. However, the roll-out has already started in London, which will shortly host the 2012 Olympics.
O2's Wi-Fi will have a single sign-up, like The Cloud, and will last for 30 minutes for ordinary customers. But "our Coffee Club members will be rewarded with unlimited [free] access to further enhance their coffee shop experience," says Costa UK's marketing director Kevin Hydes.
In a jibe at BT, O2 said: "All O2 Wi-Fi hotspots are premium public hotspots, as opposed to using residential connections with limited bandwidth." BT OpenZone was an early supplier of full-strength Wi-Fi to some Costa coffee bars, but its millions of current Wi-Fi hotspots includes services provided by BT Broadband home routers.
O2 began life as BT Cellnet and was renamed when it was demerged a decade ago. It was sold to Spain's Telefonica for £18 billion in 2005.
In a jibe at BT and BSkyB, O2 also said: "O2 Wi-Fi is free for everyone, no matter which mobile or broadband provider they are with, addressing the shortcomings of current public Wi-Fi offerings." BT provides its broadband subscribers with free access to OpenZone hotspots, while the Sky Cloud Wi-Fi app for iOS and Android devices -- which logs on automatically -- only provides free access to Sky broadband customers.
London has been rather slow to get free Wi-Fi, but things are improving. A dozen London Overground railway stations are getting free Wi-Fi supplied by The Cloud, while London Underground is reportedly preparing to offer free Wi-Fi access at 120 tube stations. BT also has a deal to provide free Wi-Fi to almost 100 London pubs.
Public Wi-Fi has become more significant now it is used by smartphones rather than just portable PCs. A Sky Survey estimated that "nearly a quarter of us (24%) have used public Wi-Fi in the past week and 41% in the past month." The survey by Vision Critical was based on 2,829 UK adults in March 2012.