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O2 expands free Wi-Fi into Costa

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.
Written by Jack Schofield, Contributor on

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.

@jackschofield

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