O2 plans to launch 15,000 free wi-fi hotspots...
O2 has today announced the launch of a major wi-fi network, free to O2 customers as well as to those on other networks.
With O2 Wifi, the mobile operator will go head to head with BT to compete in the public wi-fi market. BSkyB is also likely to enter the battle for public wi-fi usage, with the announcement of its acquisition of The Cloud, a network of wireless hotspots, expected later this week.
O2 says its network will provide twice as many wi-fi hotspots solely for public use as BT and The Cloud combined, although its figure of 15,000 is not due to be reached until 2013.
The 15,000 O2 wi-fi hotspots will run on dedicated internet connections with download speeds of up to 24Mbps. This contrasts with BT's service, which uses residential connections with potentially limited bandwidths for its two million hotspots. BT and The Cloud currently provide about 7,000 hotspots dedicated to public use.
Experts have attributed O2's decision to operate a free wi-fi network to a need to offload data from its network. The popularity of the iPad and iPhone has placed a strain on the mobile network's infrastructure, particularly in cities such as London. The increased capacity of the new wi-fi network should ease the data load and improve smartphone wi-fi access.
The move by O2 to allow customers from other networks to access its free wi-fi network marks a change from the approach adopted by BT, whose Openzone hotspots are free only to BT customers.
Currently, only 20 per cent of O2 customers with access to free public wi-fi actively use it.
Tim Sefton, O2's new business development director, said current wi-fi services may be putting consumers off. "Customers are discouraged by barriers which include complexity in activation, uncertainty of where wi-fi is free and the variable quality of the current experience," he said in a statement.
O2 says the new wi-fi network will offer smartphone users a simpler way to access the internet.