O2 launches free WiFi service

UK mobile telecommunications provider O2 has entered the UK public wireless Internet market (WiFi) and is currently offering free wireless internet access to the public, according to The Guardian, regardless of whether they are customers or not.

Gavin Franks, the managing director of O2 WiFi, added: "We're very excited about this. It's win, win, win. Win for the end user because of its ease of use, win for the venue, and a win for us," he said.

"You wouldn't get many people saying that WiFi is where it needs to be at the moment. We believe the market is changing, and that it's been stagnant over the last three years. Big players have had a massive interest in mobile data, but we're taking that to the next level."

O2, which is owned by the Spanish telecommunications giant Telefonica, plans to deliver the service through a series of partnerships with retailers and eateries in a similar manner as rival service The Cloud has done with companies like McDonalds.

Wireless operators have struggled to cope in recent years with increasing demands being placed on their networks as users' usage patterns on even mobile devices have become more bandwidth intensive. Other providers such as Sky and Virgin Media are expected to get in on the act as well as they gear up for partnerships and launches of their own.

WiFi has not achieved the critical mass in the UK as it has with their North American counterparts mainly due to the poor availability of networks outside of designated areas. Technologies such as WiMax, which would have delivered broader WiFi, have never really gained traction. People have instead opted for data to be delivered over 3G networks which provides a much more reliable, albeit slower, service than WiFi. This has put massive strains on these networks and driven the costs of 3G services upwards, which in turn has finally given incentive for these providers to more heavily push into the WiFi market.

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17 Comments

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I used to have an iPhone with O2 but I'm now with 3 as O2's 3G network was poor at the time whereas 3 have the largest 3G network. The only thing I miss is the unlimited wifi that was included with my O2 tariff through BT Openzone. Always wondered why 3 never offered it - but having the biggest 3G network is probably the main reason.

Strange move. O2 was the original exclusive carrier of iPhones in the UK. Now that is no longer exclusive, the key differentiator was that they also bundled free wi-fi through the Cloud and BT Hotspots (O2 was owned by BT until 2005) with the iPhone. If they are now offering free Wi-fi to all then that differentiator is lost - there are better iPhone tariffs to be found on other carriers that don't offer Wi-Fi. This has been my sole reason for staying with O2 - and now it's going.

While I do think this is good news, maybe its the pessimist in me, but this does seem like them trying to delay investment in their mobile phone network (getting customers to use wifi more often when they are out an about will reduce the load on their network).

WelshBluebird said,
While I do think this is good news, maybe its the pessimist in me, but this does seem like them trying to delay investment in their mobile phone network (getting customers to use wifi more often when they are out an about will reduce the load on their network).

Could well be - when I was with O2 they were notorious for Data outages as their network just couldn't cope with the amount of people using it - mainly because of the iPhone.

That's good for O2. Is O2 big in the UK?

Wish we had something like that here in the US. Well I get wifi from my ISP comcast but I can't ge that everywhere and it costs me $90 a month (with my Internet that is)

Quick Shot said,
That's good for O2. Is O2 big in the UK?

Wish we had something like that here in the US. Well I get wifi from my ISP comcast but I can't ge that everywhere and it costs me $90 a month (with my Internet that is)

$90 for internet? ouch ...

Quick Shot said,
That's good for O2. Is O2 big in the UK?

Yep, very big. They might be the biggest network in the UK, but the big five over here are fairly even. You've got O2, Orange, T-Mobile, Vodafone, and 3. When it comes to network coverage though, I think that one goes to Orange and T-Mobile, as they recently made a deal to share each others' networks, so Orange customers can use T-Mobile's network, and vice versa.

MightyJordan said,

Yep, very big. They might be the biggest network in the UK, but the big five over here are fairly even. You've got O2, Orange, T-Mobile, Vodafone, and 3. When it comes to network coverage though, I think that one goes to Orange and T-Mobile, as they recently made a deal to share each others' networks, so Orange customers can use T-Mobile's network, and vice versa.

It's not so much big 5 but big 3. T-Mobile/Orange is largest (31%), then O2 (27%), then Vodafone (22%). Virgin and 3 both have similar market share of around 7%.

The deal T-Mobile and Orange made was more than just sharing each others network. They merged in 2009.

Quick Shot said,
That's good for O2. Is O2 big in the UK?

Wish we had something like that here in the US. Well I get wifi from my ISP comcast but I can't ge that everywhere and it costs me $90 a month (with my Internet that is)

I think O2 are our 2nd biggest network, behind Vodafone

Shaun. said,

This is about ISP's not Phone suppliers

Yes, I am well aware about that, but the question was "is o2 big in the UK", when you answer a question about how big a company is, you can't overlook their functions.

As an ISP, not really sure on the answer to that ?

Subject Delta said,

Yes, I am well aware about that, but the question was "is o2 big in the UK", when you answer a question about how big a company is, you can't overlook their functions.

As an ISP, not really sure on the answer to that ?

About 600 - 700K Fixed line Broadband customers I think (Including BE)

Shaun. said,

This is about ISP's not Phone suppliers

The thing is though, in the UK at least, that the companies very much have their fingers in everything. Some mobile companies are also ISP's, some ISP's are mobile companies, some ISP's offer home phone services aswell as mobile services etc etc. As part of that, you get phone networks bundling WiFi usage with their plans. And at least in my view, this particular story of O2 doing this is an attempt by them to reduce the load on their phone network.

WelshBluebird said,

And at least in my view, this particular story of O2 doing this is an attempt by them to reduce the load on their phone network.

+1
I reckon the mobile division is more behind this. As they used to offer free wifi with contracts.