O2 is launching a Wi-Fi arm, O2 Wi-Fi, offering free internet access to users on any network.
O2 Wi-Fi, headed up by O2 veteran Gavin Franks, will consist of premium hotspots managed through partnerships with key venue owners. It will be open to all customers to access for free, no matter which mobile or broadband provider they are with.
The operator is aiming to create a scaled Wi-Fi platform that will be at least double the number of premium hotspots currently offered by BT Openzone and The Cloud combined by 2013.
It will begin rollout immediately by replacing its existing 450 Cloud hotspots in its retail and office estate. It will continue to extend the reach and scale of O2 Wi-Fi through partnerships with strategic venues to include shops, restaurants, retail outlets and outdoor and indoor locations across the UK.
The move will also bring together O2 Wi-Fi with two of the company’s other business arms O2 Media and O2 Money to offer the potential to deliver content to customers in or outside the venues.
Access to the hotspots will be through a simple sign-up process. The sign-up process will be auto provisioned for all O2 customers with Wi-Fi devices by the end of the year. All hotspots will be premium public hotspots, as opposed to using residential connections with limited bandwidth.
O2 introduced unlimited Wi-Fi access in iPhone tariffs over three years ago.
O2 Wi-Fi chief Gavin Franks said the move fits into O2’s bid to expand the business ‘beyond just mobile’. He said: ‘This business is about growing and I need to deliver incremental growth. I need to deliver the platform and then to deliver great service with partners.’
He added: ‘By creating this Wi-Fi community we can combine it with O2 Media. There is a wider strategy to what we are doing – we can work with retailers to provide a full end-to-end solution.’
O2 new business development director Tim Sefton said:’Building networks is a core capability. We have pioneered the explosion of mobile data over the last three years and know better than anyone where people are accessing data. O2 Wi-Fi hotspots will bring high quality public Wi-Fi access to the majority of mobile users.
‘Only 20% of people who have access to free public Wi-Fi on O2 tariffs actively use it despite the majority of devices being Wi-Fi-enabled. We know that Wi-Fi 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 Wi-Fi is free and the variable quality of the current experience.
‘O2 is integrating new layers of technology into the existing network to enable a seamless and sustained customer experience. We are technology-agnostic and driven entirely by our customers’ needs. We believe that services should be delivered in the best possible way, across multiple networks, supported by different technologies.’
O2 is increasing investment in its mobile network by 25% in 2011. These investments will allow the operator to offer customers access to a ‘suite of layered technologies’, including 2G, EDGE, 3G, 4G, HSPA+ and Wi-Fi.