Britain’s mobile phone service operator O2 will launch free countrywide wi-fi network and promises it to be twice the size of existing network by 2013.
In the first phase, the hotspots will be available in 450 company owned sites, but will be gradually rolled out in other locations, including shops and restaurants.
O2 has previously offered wi-fi connectivity in collaboration with BT and The Cloud to its customers. However, the new service at the hotspots will be provided to both the O2 and non O2 customers through a simple sign-up process, the company said.
According to Jeremy Green – principal analyst at Ovum, this is a step in the right direction by O2 to sort out its capacity issues, brought about by high ownership of Apple’s iPhone and other data hungry applications used by people on the move.
“450 sites is not fantastic coverage and wi-fi isn’t something that Smartphone users will be able to rely on but it is a gesture in the right direction”, Mr. Green said adding that it’s surprising that the service will be available for free – questioning the viability of the project; which the company plans to fund via advertising.
O2 will offer services at “premium public hotspots, as opposed to using residential connections with limited bandwidth”, the company said in an oblique reference to BT’s Fon network – which piggybacks home broadband network services.
BT is the biggest network provider in the UK followed by The Cloud. Rival Virgin Media is also said to be mulling the idea of launching a nationwide wireless network.
“Only 20% of people who have access to free public wi-fi on 02 tariffs actively use it despite the majority of devices being wi-fi enabled”, said Tim Sefton – Business Development Director of O2, adding the company wants to increase wi-fi usage.