UK MOBILE OPERATOR O2 has announced plans to expand its public WiFi service claiming it will deliver "seamless, fast and free Internet for all".
O2 currently partners with BT Openzone and The Cloud to provide WiFi coverage, however it says that its plans will double the 450 or so WiFi hotspots it offers. O2 also claims that the service will "address the many shortcomings of current public Wi-Fi offerings by being genuinely free to customers, simple, fast and secure".
Access to the service, which O2 says it will start rolling out immediately, will be free even for those who are not O2 customers. The sign-up process for the service will however be automatically provisioned for O2 customers, with the firm hoping that the automatic sign-up will help it increase WiFi usage among its customers. O2 claims that only 20 per cent of its customers who have access to WiFi hotspots included in their tariff actually make use of it.
O2's claim of providing free WiFi access for all does sound too good to be true, however the firm stands to gain in a number of ways if its own customers have less of a reliance on patchy 3G connectivity. Not only are there the 'partnership' or branding opportunities for O2 to exploit but also the ability to deliver valuable content to more of its WiFi users more consistently.
The latter O2 has all but admitted, saying, "O2 WiFi will introduce a new level of customer engagement, driving increased value for both the WiFi hosting venue and the user by bringing together O2 WiFi with the capabilities of O2 Media and O2 Money to offer the potential to deliver relevant timely content that customers want in a format that suits them."
That statement essentially means that for O2, giving away WiFi connectivity means it can send more advertisements and paid-for content to mobile phones. And as for offering free access to those on other mobile networks, well that just adds to the potential audience O2's adverts can reach.
If O2's WiFi connectivity is truly free and becomes widely available in built-up areas around the UK, then targeted advertising might be a small price to pay for reliable, secure and 'free' Internet access on the go. µ