To double rival's combined hotspots by 2013

O2 plans ‘free Wi-Fi for all’

British mobile operator O2 announced a roll out of Wi-Fi hotspots across the UK which the firm said would "redefine" the Wi-Fi landscape.

The new service to be called O2 Wi-Fi would be open for all customers for free, no matter the mobile or broadband provider. The hotspots would be "managed through partnerships with key venue owners", O2 said in a release.

The firm is aiming to create a Wi-Fi network with "at least double the number of premium hotspots" as that offered by rivals BT OPenzone and The Cloud combined by 2013. In order to access the network, O2 will offer a "simple sign-up process" while O2 customers will automatically gain access.

Free universal Wi-Fi raises the question of exactly where the revenue will come from in order for the company to justify such an ambitious roll out.O2 themselves said that only 20 per cent of people with access to free Wi-Fi on O2 tariffs use the service.

"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," said O2’s business development boss Tim Sefton.

The company said that the service would include O2 Media and O2 Money which would "offer the potential to deliver relevant timely content that customers want."

This suggests that O2 is looking to exchange free universal Wi-Fi in exchange for an audience directed to a content portal, thereby driving business towards additional services. Such a bargain should be well received by at least some consumers appreciative of free Wi-Fi.

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