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BT Openzone cuts prices, adds hotspots

The cost of unlimited access to BT's Openzone Wi-Fi service has fallen, but experts suggest hotspots are looking increasingly uncompetitive in the face of 3G mobile broadband
Written by Peter Judge, Contributor

BT Openzone has cut its rates for Wi-Fi access, while announcing the addition of thousands of new hotspots to its network.

On Tuesday, the provider introduced a flat rate, under the new Openzone Together plan, of £12.50 per month for unlimited access to Wi-Fi at its Openzone hotspots, up to a 3GB usage cap. Meanwhile, timed access has been reduced to as little as 0.5 pence per minute, according to BT. A new option, Openzone Original, gives 500 minutes' access for £5, and per-minute access for between 15 and 20 pence.

The Openzone Together plan requires the user to sign an 18-month contract. It is slightly cheaper than similarly capped mobile broadband deals from 3G operators like 3 and Vodafone, which typically cost £15 a month, with some operators allowing up to 5GB of usage. Mobile-broadband contracts also typically last 18 months.

Openzone has also added around 6,000 hotspots, 2,500 of which are in Europe, through roaming deals with operators including iBahn, Wayport and Vex. Its coverage within the UK went down by around 3,000 hotspots in September when it cancelled its roaming deal with The Cloud.

BT's price cut comes at a time when 3G data usage is growing and operators have begun a billion-dollar marketing campaign for mobile broadband in laptops. Cellular network-based mobile broadband alone is expected to displace fixed broadband for a quarter of users in the UKin the next five years, according to Rupert Wood of Analysys Mason. "Nearly a quarter of broadband-equipped sites will be mobile-only by 2013," Wood said in a statement last week.

"Any other technology is going to struggle against mobile broadband," commented Rob Ablewhite, director of Broadband Expert, a consumer site comparing broadband products. "It has the upper hand now, and a year down the line, I can't imagine anyone using anything else." The average price of mobile broadband has fallen by more than 50 percent in the last 12 months, which has helped fuel the rapid uptake of this service in the UK, he said, adding that mobile broadband enjoys greater coverage than Wi-Fi.

Although 3G broadband services can be had from around £10 (from 3, for instance), most users go for the £15 option with higher data limits, said Ablewhite.

Broadband Expert on Wednesday presented awards to broadband service providers. The best overall provider was deemed to be 3, with Vodafone scoring for coverage and speed, and T-Mobile commended for its policy of not charging high penalties on data over the usage cap.

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