Arqiva loses its wifi virginity

UK mutliplay telco Virgin Media is hoping to steal a march on bitter rival BT by grabbing Arqiva’s 31,000 UK wifi access points for its business arm.

Wifi networks have become another string to the multiplay bow in recent years, with punters understandably wanting to keep their costly mobile data consumption in check and smartphones starting to finally emerge from the stone age when it comes to dynamic switching between cellular and wifi.

There can surely be no UK smartphone user that hasn’t shaken their fist at the sky in anguish upon having their mobile entertainment interrupted by an unsolicited pop-up wifi login request. The worst has to be Addison Lee, which generously offers free in-car wifi, but at the heavy cost of being electronically heckled by every passing Ad Lee car thereafter.

Overt support for wifi by operators is somewhat counter-intuitive, considering charging for mobile data is one of their major revenue streams. To some extent this is a case of bowing to the inevitable, but there could also be the hope that we will develop a heroin-like dependence on data, our addiction fuelled by wifi hotspots, and will then be willing to pay whatever it takes when the wifi smack is hard to find.

Both Virgin Media and Arqiva set new standards for generic banality with their canned quotes but Dave Fraser, CEO of curated wifi network provider Devicescape, which has been working with Virgin Media since 2014, was kind enough to put some thought into the matter.

“The biggest innovation in smartphone connectivity provision right now is the integration of cellular and wifi connectivity into a single service,” Fraser told “This announcement is evidence of the increasing strategic importance of public wifi to any such service.

“Innovators including Virgin Mobile and Google’s Project Fi are taking the lead in this area, positioning themselves to stay relevant and add value across the customer’s entire connectivity experience. More traditional mobile operators are adopting an all too familiar ‘wait-and-see’ approach, or focusing on ‘home spot’ wifi networks which are of limited value to users who need improved connectivity when they are out and about. Smartphone users want an integrated connectivity service, the operators which provide one will win out.”

He was too discreet to explicitly say it but Fraser seemed to be referring to BT partner Fon with his ‘home spot’ observation. If you’re a BT broadband subscriber you also get to use all other BT hubs as wifi hotspots, which is of limited public use as most of them are domestic. With this acquisition Virgin Media is betting that proper public wifi network access will be a differentiator, while Arqiva gets to focus on telecom towers and fun stuff like that.

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