BT wants to create UK's biggest Wi-Fi hotspot group

UK businesses of all sizes can now turn their premises into wireless broadband (Wi-Fi) hotspots, expanding the range of services they offer to customers and visitors, and potentially creating a new revenue stream, through BT Business Total Broadband initiative.

For the first time in the UK, 170,000 existing BT businesses with BT Business Total Broadband can turn their BT Business Hub into a BT Openzone wireless hotspot at no cost.

This will allow anyone visiting their premises, be it an office, shop, restaurant or depot, to log on to a separate secure internet channel to check e-mail, surf the web, use internet-enabled applications and make Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) calls.

Customer research highlights that more than a quarter (28 per cent) of small businesses believe offering visitors access to telephones and desks improves relationships and ultimately, business.

Only seven per cent however, currently offer Wi-Fi. BT Business Hub owners will now be able to offer Wi-Fi access, and even opt to sell BT Openzone vouchers to allow their visitors to use the service.The new initiative is a central element of BT’s wireless broadband strategy and uses technology that acts like a separate broadband connection running through the enabled BT Business Hub.

At the same time, the BT Business customer’s data has priority by continuing to use a separate, secure internet connection.

The service provides Wi-Fi access to other BT Business Total Broadband customers using their inclusive BT Openzone minutes, plus BT Openzone subscribers (including roaming partners) and BT consumer Total Broadband customers who are members of the BT FON Wi-Fi community.

BT Business Total Broadband customers currently receive an inclusive number of BT Openzone wireless minutes, ranging from 50 to 500 a month depending on the option and contract.

These can be used at more than 2,500 BT Openzone Premier hotspots at locations such as hotels, airports and railway stations, the 12 UK wireless city centres, including Newcastle, Liverpool and Westminster, the hotspots provided by the BT FON Wi-Fi community, now with more than 70,000 members, and at any of the new BT Business Total Broadband enabled hotspots. The 170,000 existing BT Business Total Broadband customers with a BT Business 2700 Total Broadband Hub will be invited to switch the Wi-Fi hotspot feature on following a firmware upgrade this quarter.

A new version of the BT Business Hub will be launched in July, with the hotspot capability already enabled and giving customers the choice to opt-out of the service.

Fonera, whose backers include Skype, Google and Sequoia Capital, pioneered the concept of a global Wireless Community which allows members to automatically share their bandwidth with other FON members.

BT has yet to confirm how businesses signing for this scheme will financially benefit in the long run and what impact that might have on their broadband line' Quality of Service.