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O2 pitches free wifi to UK

Unlicensed spectrum devices will get a boost

UK mobile operator O2 made a bold move on Wednesday, promising free wifi for UK users, regardless of the provider they are with.

As one of the world’s iPhone pioneers, O2 has struggled to support the growing demand for data services in the wake of the smartphone boom and this latest ploy is a clear effort to shift usage off the cellular network and onto the fixed.

The carrier is aiming to create a scaled wifi platform that will comprise at least double the combined number of premium hotspots currently offered by its partners—BT Openzone and The Cloud—by 2013.

The big question is what will become of O2’s existing partnerships. O2 has yet to respond to our questions but the company said it will begin rollout immediately by replacing its existing 450 Cloud hotspots in retail and office estate and will continue to extend the reach of O2 Wifi through partnerships with strategic venues, to include shops, restaurants, retail outlets and outdoor and indoor locations across the UK. These premium hotspots will be managed through partnerships with the venue owners and will be open for all customers to access for free, no matter which provider they are with. Users on competitor networks will need to sign up to access the service but it will be auto provisioned for O2 customers.

O2 also sees some scope to integrate O2 Wifi with the capabilities of advertising network O2 Media and pre-pay cash card offering O2 Money “to offer the potential to deliver relevant timely content that customers want in a format that suits them.”

O2’s new business development director Tim Sefton said: “Only 20 per cent of people who have access to free public wifi on O2 tariffs actively use it despite the majority of devices being wifi enabled. We know that wifi as a technology has great potential and can be a very fast service, however customers are discouraged by barriers which include complexity in activation, uncertainty of where wifi is free and the variable quality of the current experience.”

In addition, O2 is also beefing up its cellular network, increasing investment in the infrastructure by 25 per cent in 2011. The company has selected Ericsson to perform a substantial network modernisation programme for O2 in the north of the UK, targeted with delivering greater coverage, voice and data capacity and “specifically designed to handle significant growth in smartphones and smartphone applications.”

Core network infrastructure deployments will include Ericsson’s high capacity mobile softswitch solution that will allow O2 to achieve operational efficiencies and greater flexibility in the management and operation of its network. “The modernised core network will be capable of greater capacity at reduced operational cost, allowing for site consolidation through a smaller footprint,” said Nigel Purdy, CTO for Telefónica O2 UK.

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2 comments

  1. Gordon Kerr 26/01/2011 @ 4:22 pm

    All very well to offload traffic onto free-to-use wifi, but default free wifi is not secure, and I would not want all my info so easily hackable (email logins, data to/from non-SSL sites visited etc). Can O2 provide a WiFi service that is demonstrably secure at the air level?

  2. Enrique Roitman 03/02/2011 @ 11:32 am

    What drawback do you see in using an encrypted VPN networks over a free non-secure WiFi service? This is the same solution you may use when accessing your corporate network through
    a WiFi network at any hotel room.

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