BT is turning itself into a Wi-Fi wholesaler by opening up its Openzone wireless network to other companies, a move that allows Vodafone and Orange to begin offering Wi-Fi access to their customers.The telco announced on Monday that it is now allowing other firms to resell access to Openzone, allowing them to give their customers high-speed wireless Internet access without having to build their own network. BT expects the move to encourage more people to become Wi-Fi users, and to bring more business to hot spot sites such as coffee shops and hotels. "Wholesale has always been part of our strategy; it maximises the usage of our network and therefore the return on our investment," said David Hughes, chief executive, BT Wireless Broadband, in a statement. "The other great benefit is that it unleashes other companies with complementary and innovative approaches to developing this market. And it will be a tremendous benefit to our site partners because their venue will attract not just BT customers but also those of our wholesale partners." BT believes this will appeal to mobile phone operators, ISPs and other telecoms operators, who will be able to buy capacity on Openzone and then sell it on it to their customers. For example, this would allow a mobile operator to bundle a certain number of minutes of Wi-Fi per month into a business package.
Vodafone will begin offering Wi-Fi from BT's network early next year. Vodafone chief executive Gavin Darby said: "The BT Openzone Wireless LAN network complements our existing mobile network offering and ensures people can connect using the most appropriate network available."
Orange is proceeding a little more cautiously, by launching a three-month trial. Two of Orange's corporate customers, Cadbury Schweppes and the Hilton group, have already signed up to take part.Of the UK's mobile network operators, T-Mobile has made the greatest strides in the Wi-Fi space through its partnership with the Starbucks coffee chain. Making Wi-Fi available to their customers could help Vodafone and Orange to catch up.