Openzone boss optimistic about Wi-Fi take up

BT says Wi-Fi usage is growing fast, and claims network aggregators such as iPass don't offer the kind of coverage that mobile workers need

Chris Clark, chief executive of BT Openzone, claimed on Thursday that Wi-Fi usage was accelerating fast in the UK.

Speaking to ZDNet UK, Clarke said that Openzone's customer base had doubled in the last six months, and was growing by between 10 and 20 percent per month at present. However, he declined to reveal exactly how many customers Openzone has.

Openzone announced on Wednesday that it is trying to woo potential Wi-Fi customers by cutting introductory prices. This move led to speculation that Openzone, which was launched back in 2002, was struggling to attract users.

Clark, though, claimed that the promotion was being run at because Openzone was "seeing a significant uptake of usage".

Gartner analyst Lars Godell told ZDNet UK earlier this week that he didn't believe this promotion would significantly boost take-up.

Clark agreed on Thursday that price alone would not affect uptake, but claimed that many of the other problems affecting Wi-Fi — such as availability and ease of use — have now been addressed.

Clark added that BT was also encouraging companies to implement policies for Wi-Fi use.

Coverage has also been a key issue for Wi-Fi operators such as Openzone. BT has recently signed roaming deals with fellow operators such as T-Mobile, and currently gives its customers access to 7,800 hotspots in the UK and 30,000 worldwide.

BT has also signed a deal with hot spot aggregator iPass late last year which gives iPass customers access to Openzone hotspots.

When asked why businesses should choose to a deal with BT rather than an aggregator such as iPass, Clark said "iPass can only access 1,500 BT hotspots, whereas BT can access 7,800 hotspots in the UK alone, because of roaming agreements. BT has a far bigger footprint in the UK. For example, our customers can use T-Mobile hotspots in Starbucks, but iPass customers can't."

In response, Paresh Modi, managing director of iPass UK, claimed that BT was playing catch-up in the global Wi-Fi arena.

"BT Openzone has a different authentication process, and is aimed more at the UK end-user. iPass offer a unified service, and is more attuned to the global traveller," said Modi.