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Sky fills out with Cloud

Sky said it would use the acquisition to support its mobile activities

Perhaps traffic offload is not the only motivation for O2 UK to roll out its own wifi network. On Thursday British broadcaster BSkyB confirmed its acquisition of the Cloud, giving the firm ownership of over 5,000 public wifi locations across the UK and one of O2’s wifi partners. While it does not operate a mobile network, Sky, in some respects is a competing service provider, especially when it comes to content.

Sky said it would use the acquisition to support its mobile activities, allowing users of Sky Anywhere to access to Sky content on multiple devices. Sky also has a fixed line offering, unbundling broadband from BT and said it would use wifi to complement its existing broadband services with connectivity while they are on the move.

An O2 spokesman said the onus for its initiative would be on the partnerships it would form directly with venue owners. “We recognise that this business model will enable us to create a number of strategic venue partnerships, of benefit to O2 and our also our customer base. From the point of view of our venue partners, the strength of the relationships lies on the fact that O2 Wifi will be open to everyone, not just O2 customers,” O2 said.

Perhaps the key here is the carrier’s scope for integrating O2 Wifi with the capabilities afforded by its 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.”

Giving away free wifi access to all comers would give O2 the opportunity to directly harvest lots of customer data, which it could then use to better target its advertising. And with mobile payments, especially those of the NFC variety, looming large on the operator agenda right now, having a mobile money strategy in place makes sense too. As Ronan Dunne, O2 UK’s chief executive, said at the launch of O2 Money in 2009, it’s a move that fits in with the company’s strategy of the ‘mobile wallet’. “We believe that we are at the start of a journey towards the coming together of phone and wallet and we intend, through O2 Money, to be at the forefront of this trend. This launch represents an important step towards O2 becoming a leading service provider with mobile at its core.”

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