BT lures consumers with free Wi-Fi

BT hopes to hook users on Wi-Fi with a week of free access, pay-as-you-go billing and cheaper hot spot set-up costs

BT is hoping to tempt more people into using its Wi-Fi services by reducing the cost of setting up a hot spot and offering free Wi-Fi access during the last week of January.

The telco, which currently runs around 1,700 hotspots in the UK under its Openzone brand, is hoping to expand this to more than 4,000 hot spots by the summer. In order to achieve this target, the company has reduced the cost of Openzone-in-a-Box from £400 to £250. Openzone-in-a-Box includes everything required by a broadband-equipped small or medium-sized organisation to set up a Wi-Fi hot spot.

To further promote Wi-Fi, BT will offer free Internet access from any of its Openzone hot spots during Wireless Broadband Week, which falls between 26 January and 1 February. BT said that during this promotional week, both new and old users with a Wi-Fi enabled laptop or PDA will offered seven days' unlimited wireless access to the Internet without charge.

Additionally, BT has introduced a new pay-as-you-go Openzone subscription aimed at occasional Wi-Fi users who want to be billed per minute. The new service, which does not require a contract or subscription, will cost 20 pence per minute. Users also have the option to purchase a one-hour pass for £6 or subscribe to the service for £10 per month, which includes two hours' access.

Pay-as-you-go billing was one of the factors fuelling the boom in mobile phones, but is less attractive to operators than subscription packages, since these lock in consumers. Many users are wary of paying subscription fees for a service they may only use when travelling, according to industry observers.

Steve Andrews, managing director of products and enterprises at BT, said the telco was determined to make Wi-Fi more accessible to a greater audience. "The launch of the pay-as-you-go service is a significant development that will really drive up use in the mass consumer market," he said. "The new price for Openzone-in-a-box will encourage more independent local businesses to install a BT Openzone hot spot on their premises and benefit from a new revenue stream."

Intel on Monday said it would support BT in promoting its Wireless Broadband Week. Andrew Allison, director of mobile computing at Intel UK and Ireland said more people need to experience first hand what Wi-Fi can do: "Wireless Broadband Week is about giving even more people the chance to experience the benefits of Wi-Fi, taking one further step to unwire Britain," he said.