BT to bundle Wi-Fi and GPRS

BT Openzone customers who can't reach a hot spot could soon be able to access their data via GPRS - could this be further bad news for 3G operators?

BT is planning to team up with its former mobile arm mmO2 to add GPRS functionality to the Wi-Fi packages offered by BT Openzone.

By bundling the two services together in one package, BT Openzone will be able to promise its subscribers a usable wireless data connection virtually anywhere in the UK, as well as high-speed access at one of its Wi-Fi hot spots.

David Hughes, director of mobile services at BT, told a seminar at the Enterprise Wireless Technology show in London this week that BT Openzone was planning to augment its Wi-Fi service with access to mmO2's GPRS network.

"We certainly intend to offer a combination of Wi-Fi and GPRS, which will create exciting opportunities for users," said Hughes, who suggested there could also be tie-ins with private Wi-Fi networks or home broadband products in the future. "This would let us offer the mother of all access solutions," Hughes added.

According to Intel, it is important for service providers to provide subscribers with the optimum bandwidth available to them at the time, depending on their location. "There will be times when users simply can't get Wi-Fi, so we think GPRS can be a critical option for occasions when someone needs to access their data," said Andrew Allison, UK business development manager at Intel.

BT Openzone currently has 22 Wi-Fi hot spots, and is aiming to have 400 up and running by August 2003. No other company has announced such ambitious plans for Wi-Fi hot spot rollout in the UK.

Adding GPRS to its offering makes it even more likely that BT Openzone will be Britain's dominant Wi-Fi operator.

The move could also be bad news for 3G operators. Some in the industry have argued that 3G and Wi-Fi are complementary services, as 3G will be more ubiquitous than Wi-Fi.

Adding GPRS to Wi-Fi undermines this argument, though, as BT will be able to tell customers that they will get some level of data transfer almost anywhere, as well as a very fast connection when in a hot spot.

Discover the latest developments in Wi-Fi, 3G, GPRS and other cutting-edge wireless technologies at ZDNet UK's Wireelss News Section.

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