Wi-Fi market gets Divine intervention

Too many Wi-Fi hot spot accounts? Help could be on the way with the launch of an aggregation service

A former chief executive of O2 has founded a company that aims to aggregate the UK's Wi-Fi hot spots.

Thousands of mobile workers use Wi-Fi hot spots for internet connectivity, but because hot spots are owned by a vast range of companies, access can be complicated and may require multiple subscriptions.

Guy Rosenhoiz's new company, Divine Wireless, aims to address this problem by aggregating access to most of the country's hot spots with one account. To do this, it has struck a deal with the largest two providers — BT Openzone and The Cloud — and it plans deals with several more. The current deals give users access to around 15,000 hot spots, or around 90 percent of the UK total.

Divine Wireless is also pioneering a new payment model — its customers will pay per minute, rather than having to take out a fixed-length subscription like BT and The Cloud (who already have their own roaming agreements). At 8p per minute, the cost is likely to be far cheaper for lower-end users than the individual hot spot operators. For example, BT Openzone charges £6 for one hour's usage, while The Cloud charges £12 for a week.

Users of Divine's service run a pre-paid account which can be topped up online. As from January, top-up vouchers will be available in branches of Carphone Warehouse and other high-street retailers, Rosenhoiz said.

"The company came from personal frustration," said Rosenhoiz, who was formerly the chief executive of O2's applications business SmartGlobal. "We found that Wi-Fi networks in public places tend to be overcomplicated and time consuming. You don't want to be bothered with subscriptions or even thinking about the connection. Our vision is to make Wi-Fi more accessible."

Divine's service works because of software that users download to their laptop. The software chooses to connect to any hot spot with which Divine has a deal. Between BT and The Cloud, hot spots are available in many hotels, airports, pubs and open spaces in city centres. More hot spots will be made available once Divine concludes three more deals that it is currently negotiating. At least one of those is known to involve one of the UK's mobile operators. Out of the five operators, T-Mobile has by far the most successful hot spot business, partly driven by a nationwide rollout across the Starbucks coffee-shop chain.

Divine has received funding from what Rosenhoiz calls "a large UK consumer group", though he refuses to reveal its name.