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O2 readies inner London Wi-Fi network for Olympics

The telecoms company is gearing up to launch an ad-funded Wi-Fi network for visitors and residents ahead of the Olympics Games later in 2012
Written by Ben Woods, Contributor

Mobile operator O2 has said it will provide free internet access to millions of Londoners and visitors to the capital.

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O2 is gearing up to launch an ad-funded Wi-Fi network for visitors and residents of the London boroughs of Westminster and Kensington and Chelsea.

The deal will provide people in Westminster and Kensington and Chelsea boroughs with access to O2's Wi-Fi network for free, based on agreements between the local authorities and the telecoms company.

"Our £500m annual network investment programme is focused on integrating new layers of technology into the existing network to enable a seamless and sustained customer experience," Derek McManus, chief operating officer at O2, said in a statement on Friday.

The telecoms company said it would be adding network infrastructure to existing street furniture beginning in January 2012, for an initial rollout in the two boroughs.

"Our longer-term aim is to expand our footprint of O2 Wi-Fi, which is open to everyone, and also intelligently enhance our services at street level, where people need the network the most," McManus added.

O2 hopes the service will help provide connectivity for visitors to the Olympics later in the year. A spokeswoman told ZDNet UK the plan is to then extend the scheme to other boroughs, depending on the response.

The service will be free to O2 customers and non-customers alike, but will be subsidised by displaying adverts to users on their devices. It will also require people to go through a one-off registration process in order to use the service.

The network will fit in with O2's nationwide network of hotspots, the spokeswoman added. In January 2011, the company said that it would have a nationwide 15,000 hotspot Wi-Fi network by 2013. Other telecoms companies — including BT and Virgin Media — also operate, or are planning to launch, Wi-Fi hotspot networks.

Handset manufacturer Nokia is also running a trial in London to provide users in some parts of the city with access to a free Wi-Fi network.

O2 said it expects people to tap its Wi-Fi for watching videos, checking social networks and general web browsing, but noted it does not plan to limit usage except where there is "inappropriate use of the service".

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