The Cloud expands its hotspot coverage

The UK-based Wi-Fi provider says its purchase of a German aggregator makes it the leading hotspot provider in the UK and Germany

The Cloud has bought a German hotspot aggregator that supplies Wi-Fi services to four- and five-star hotels across that country.

The UK-based hotspot service provider already has over 3,500 access points (APs) in Germany, but the acquisition of GlobalAirNet AG (Ganag) adds a further 5,300 APs — located in over 300 hotels — to that roster.

Overall, The Cloud now boasts more than 25,000 hotspots across the UK, Germany, Sweden, Denmark, Norway and the Netherlands.

"The Cloud is a fast-expanding European mobile wireless broadband service provider with market leading positions in the UK and Sweden and now, as a result of this transaction, we are also the leading independent Wi-Fi operator in Germany," said Steve Nicholson, The Cloud's chief executive, on Thursday. "We predict that the mobile industry will continue to wrestle with poor performing data networks over the coming 12 to 18 months. We therefore see a significant opportunity for The Cloud as the imagination of the mass market is captured by the arrival of new multimedia Wi-Fi-enabled mobile devices throughout 2008."

Depending on usage levels and chosen tariffs, Wi-Fi access is generally still a cheaper option for business travellers in Europe than 3G-based mobile data access, thanks to hefty data-roaming surcharges.

However, there are now signs that data-roaming prices are to fall. Fresh from its victory over operators on voice-roaming tariffs, the European Commission has threatened to put similar caps on data charges, and on Monday the operator Telefonica/O2 announced it would drastically reduce such charges in the first half of this year. Other UK operators have yet to follow suit.

Hotels in Germany with Ganag hotspots include the Marriott, Swiss Hotel and Crowne Plaza chains. The Cloud has not disclosed how much it paid for the Munich-based hotspot aggregator.