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O2 announces Wi-Fi free-for-all

Mobile telecoms outfit O2 has announced its plans to deploy 'a market-changing public Wi-Fi platform' in the UK.

In a statement, the company said it would be creating a scaled Wi-Fi platform which would be double the size of its current offerings - The Cloud and BT Openzone - combined by 2013.

The roll-out will begin immediately with the company's 450 The Cloud hotspots, which can be found in most McDonald's restaurants as well as many other business partners, re-branded under the O2 Wi-Fi banner.

But the big news is that the network will be open to all and sundry, not just those with O2 mobile or broadband contracts.

"Access to the hotspots will be through a simple sign-up process and will be free to both O2 and non-O2 mobile customers," said the statement, "providing seamless connectivity to a high quality network. The sign up process will be auto provisioned for all O2 customers with Wi-Fi devices by the end of the year. All hotspots will be premium public hotspots, as opposed to using residential connections with limited bandwidth," it continued, having a pop at BT's Openzone offering.

O2 director Tim Sefton said: “We have pioneered the explosion of mobile data over the last three years and know better than anyone where people are accessing data. O2 Wifi hotspots will bring high quality public Wi-Fi access to the majority of mobile users.

“Only 20 per cent of people who have access to free public Wi-Fi on O2 tariffs actively use it despite the majority of devices being Wi-Fi enabled," he continued. "We know that Wi-Fi as a technology has great potential and can be a very fast service, however customers are discouraged by barriers which include complexity in activation, uncertainty of where Wi-Fi is free and the variable quality of the current experience."

O2 is increasing investment in its mobile network by 25 per cent this year broadening access to consumers using 2G, EDGE, 3G, 4G, HSPA+ and Wi-Fi connections and says, “O2 is integrating new layers of technology into the existing network to enable a seamless and sustained customer experience. We are technology-agnostic and driven entirely by our customers’ needs. We believe that services should be delivered in the best possible way, across multiple networks, supported by different technologies."

Earlier, we reported on a Sunday Times story that suggested that its owner, one Rupert Murdoch, was keen to buy The Cloud. This move by O2 is either designed to head off Murdoch's approaches, or the Sunday Times is just spreading FUD on the behalf of its megalomanical proprietor, or there's another possibility we haven't thought of yet.