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BT greets Wi-Fi's 10th anniversary with OpenZone rebranding & FTTP rollout

BT has hailed the 10th anniversary of Wi-Fi's arrival in the United Kingdom with two major announcements this week.

First, the telecoms giant – which was among the first generation of British Wi-Fi providers – made public that it was merging two existing services, BT Fon and BT OpenZone, into a new brand, dubbed BT Wi-fi.

The move is aimed at better facilitating consumer access to hotspots, with industry specialists Informa Telecoms & Media predicting that the UK's existing estate of 18 million wireless connectivity hotspots will have increased by three million come 2015.

BT Wi-Fi CEO Andy Baker ventured that the boom in smartphones and tablets has made on-the-go Internet access more essential than ever.

"As tablets and smartphones have become increasingly popular, connecting through Wi-Fi has become more relevant. It made sense for us to bring our estate under one unified brand," he said.

In addition, the company's Openreach arm is also set to roll out fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP) connections to customers in eight areas – including Edinburgh, Bristol, and Manchester - taking part in trials launched this week.

Customers within range of BT's existing superfast broadband cabinets will have the option of upgrading to a possible connection speed of 330Mbps in a move the firm predicts will be most immediately of interest to enterprise.

"While we believe FTTC will be our mass market consumer product for some time yet, FTTP may be of interest to small and medium-sized businesses, so we want to make it accessible throughout our fibre footprint," said Mike Galvin, managing director of network investment at BT Openreach.

Participants who opt to improve their connection will either be levied with a one-off fee, or charged at a higher monthly rate.

A successful trial run could prompt BT to try and launch the lightning speed FTTP service on a commercial scale in spring 2013. At present, 1,250 exchanges are FTTC enabled, with a total of 17 million homes across the UK covered.

The announcements come on the back of an EU study showing Brits had severely limited access to high-speed broadband services, and following warnings from business leaders that the imminent arrival of 4G was essential to the sustenance of UK business.