O2's Wi-Fi plans: Ireland today, UK tomorrow?

Ireland will be a test bed for a possible future rollout of O2's commercial wireless LAN services in the UK, Germany and the Netherlands

Mobile phone operator O2 is set to launch up to 20 Wi-Fi hot spots in Ireland next year, as a possible prelude to a rollout of commercial WLANs in several European countries.

The company -- formerly BT's mobile arm -- said on Wednesday that Nokia has won the contract to supply the hardware for the hot spots, which are based on the 802.11b standard and allow high-speed wireless Internet access within a limited area.

Simon Gordon, spokesman for O2, told ZDNet UK News that Ireland was a test bed for O2's commercial Wi-Fi plans. "We are currently reviewing our opportunities in the UK, Germany and the Netherlands, where we also operate. There are a number of possible plans, but nothing has been determined yet," Gordon said.

It is understood that O2 will deploy between 15 and 20 hot spots in Ireland. The bulk will probably be located in Dublin, at places such as hotels and train stations. Once the hot spots are up and running, sometime early next year, O2's Irish customers should be able to buy contracts that include access to Wi-Fi as well as to GSM and GPRS services.

The move makes O2 the second of the UK's mobile phone operators to announce a move into Wi-Fi, after T-Mobile -- which is involved in trials with Starbucks.

O2 plans to closely integrate its Wi-Fi service with its existing GPRS services. "The two technologies are very complementary. With Wi-Fi, your roaming ability is limited, but GPRS allows you to access data while you're on the move," explained Gordon.

BT, which spun off O2 last year, is the leader in the UK's nascent Wi-Fi market. As ZDNet UK has reported, it plans to bundle GPRS and WLAN access, though a partnership with O2.

Click here to see a map of the UK's Wi-Fi hot spots.

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

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