O2 are the latest operator to announce that they will be joining the Wi-Fi market by rolling out Wi-Fi hotspots across the UK, following on from the expected announcement this week that BSkyB will acquire The Cloud. O2 have a key difference to competitors such as BT Openzone and The Cloud- their network is going to be free.
The company will start with their 450 retail locations, which will become live in the second quarter of 2011. O2 will also look to install into restaurants, shops and sports stadiums. Unlike BT which touts over 2 million hotspot locations (through the use of customer broadband connections), O2 will only install dedicated Wi-Fi hotspots.
"Many users have frustrating experiences with Wi-Fi hotspots or don't understand how to access the networks, such as what information they need to sign up, a password to remember and so forth, and so the market has become stagnant.
For mobile users this will bring big benefits by increasing the quality of Wi-Fi network coverage, and will help give partners increased engagement with customers."Gavin Franks, (Managing Director) O2
One benefit of deploying Wi-Fi is that it will ease the strain on the O2 3G network. If O2 can get access points installed in high-usage data areas, it should help free up bandwidth in the mobile network improving the quality of service received.
Virgin Media also recently announced that they were looking at deployments of Wi-Fi in areas where there is demand. This would then just leave TalkTalk as the only large broadband provider without a Wi-Fi service. (Orange's sister company T-Mobile (through Everything Everywhere) do have hotspots, so Orange would be unlikely to deploy their own service.)