British Telecom’s Openzone and its partner Fon networks, which claims it has 2.8 million Wi-Fi hotspots in the U.K. and Ireland and its competitor in the UK, The Cloud, with some 22,000 hotspots internationally are now getting free Wi-Fi competition. Mobile operator 02 and Virgin Media have recently announced free WiFi throughout the UK.
Initially, 100 locations across London will be equipped with WiFi, with plans to extend WiFi hotspot service to a further 200 pubs across the UK by the end of 2012.
BT customers will be able to use the service for free, but BT’s OpenZone is not free to non-BT customers.
BT has 3 million Wi-Fi spots in the UK, and added 200,000 sites in the last three months.
BSkyB acquired The Cloud earlier this year, with more than 4,000 hotspots. The Cloud now has over 5,000 hotspots thoughout the UK. British Sky Broadcasting, a pay-TV company, says it will leave it to the pub and club owners to decide whether to charge their customers for access.
Before 2008, BT customers had access to The Cloud’s hotspots, but the companies ended their partnership after failing to reach an agreement over commercial terms.
Meanwhile, Virgin Media is rolling out free public Wi-Fi service in parts of London. Virgin Media plans to install WiFi routers in its existing infrastructure, including the street-side cabinets that distribute its cable network into home. At the moment, Virgin is looking into giving non-customers free Wi-Fi access at speeds of 0.5Mbps, while customers will get up to 10Mbps, the company’s chief executive Neil Berkett told investors last week.
Mobile operator O2 plans to launch a 15,000-strong nationwide network of free Wi-Fi hotspots located in public places such as coffee shops, and open to customers and non-customers alike. The mobile operator said that the key differentiator of O2’s free Wi-Fi hotspots from other hotspot providers is that it will be “genuinely free”, whether users are O2 customers or not.
When you first connect, you’ll be presented with a request for your name and mobile number, explains The Register. An identifying code is then sent to the phone as an SMS message: type in the code and you’re connected. Adverts will also appear on the splash page.
At present, O2 offers its own customers access to 7,500 hotspots through its partnership with The Cloud and BT Openzone. O2 hopes its own, free hotspot network will double this number by 2013. O2 Wi-Fi is a separate business unit from Mobile, and one that intends to have its own customer base and its own revenue streams, reports The Register.
The United Kingdom has about 80 million mobile subscribers, with a 130% penetration rate (December 2009). The top mobile operators in the UK are:
- T-Mobile/Orange (now called Everything Everywhere), with 27 million subs, and owned by France Télécom and Deutsche Telekom
- 02 with 22 million subs, owned by Telefónica, based in Spain.
- Vodafone with 19 million subs, owned by Vodafone Inc., headquartered in London. It owns 45% of Verizon Wireless.
- Three with 7.2 million subs, owned by Hong Kong-based Hutchison Whampoa
- Virgin Mobile UK, with 1.35 million subs, operates on the Everything Everywhere network under a MVNO agreement
The UK government aims to raise £5 billion ($8 billion) from the forthcoming spectrum auction. The UK will auction 800 MHz and 2.6 GHz for the equivalent of three quarters of the mobile spectrum that is in use today. Their auction is planned to start in the first quarter of 2012.
The UK’s analogue television signals are being switched off, region by region, between 2008 and 2012. In principle, this means that all 368MHz might be available for new uses, but it was previously decided by the Government that 256MHz of the 368MHz should be used for digital terrestrial television (DTT). This digital broadcasting will be provided by six multiplexes, each of which can carry a number of television channels and some other services.
This decision allowed digital terrestrial television to expand its coverage – to match that of analogue, at 98.5% of the population; and its capacity – to around 10 times that of analogue in most of the country, and around 5 times elsewhere.
At the same time, digital switchover will allow the remaining spectrum – 112MHz – to be released for new uses. It is this 112MHz that forms the core of the ‘digital dividend’.
The European Commission has ruled that member states must allow 4G devices to access both 900 and 1,800 MHz radio frequencies by the end of the year.
Mobile wireless capability is central to the EU’s Digital Agenda and it believes that an increase in Internet uptake will boost competitiveness of the EU’s common market. Neelie Kroes, Commissioner for the EU’s Digital Agenda, said in a statement (pdf) that the “the decision opens the way for the latest 4G mobile devices to gain access to the radio spectrum they need to operate.
According to the market research firm, In-Stat, WiFi hotspots will continue to be a key factor for mobile operators’ data offload strategy. Worldwide hotpot venues will increase to over 1 million in 2013. In-Stat forecasts nearly 120 billion WiFi connects in 2015.
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