UK mobile network operator O2 UK is building a Wi-Fi network that will allow it to cope with increasing demand for data services as the uptake of smartphones and tablet PCs continues to climb. According to the Financial Times, the cellco is expected to provide free public access to the Wi-Fi network, which it is estimated will cost it GBP10 million (USD16 million) to roll out, with subscribers that have services with rival mobile operators also able to utilise the infrastructure. The first phase of Wi-Fi hotspots, which will be located in O2’s retail outlets, are expected to be operational before the end of March 2011, and the cellco is reportedly aiming to have some 15,000 hotspots up and running by 2013. The majority of the access points are likely to be located in restaurants and shops, with it thought that O2 will form partnerships with retailers that agree to host its infrastructure.
Meanwhile, in separate but related news broadband provider BSkyB is thought to be close to announcing a deal to acquire The Cloud, a Wi-Fi provider with networks in the UK and Sweden. Such a deal is likely to be viewed as a means to compete more effectively with the UK’s dominant broadband provider, fixed line incumbent BT. Established in 2003, The Cloud operates more than 22,000 hotspots, and has deals with a number of large corporate entities, including McDonalds, Pret A Manger and the Marriott hotel chain.