British O2 announced plans to launch public wireless LAN services in the UK later this year and increase the current number of live sites in Germany to complement its existing GPRS wide area mobile data networks.
UK customers will be offered a simple to use and secure service to approximately 1,000 wLAN sites across Europe. The company will also extend its current offering in Germany during this summer to include both prepay and post-paid pricing packages and increase the number of access points from 30 to more than 100.
These services build on the success and experience gained in Ireland, where the company has already deployed wi-fi services as an extension to GPRS for business customers. O2 Ireland and Intel have signed a co-operative marketing agreement whereby O2 Ireland is working with Intel to verify the compatibility of the service with Intel? Centrino? mobile technology, the recently launched technology for notebook PCs that features built-in wireless capability. The two companies will also jointly promote the WLAN services, including the branding of Intel Centrino mobile technology at all O2 wireless hotspots.
Central to O2's focus is providing business travellers and commuters with high-speed mobile data access and services across Europe via a range of wireless access technologies. Customers will be offered international roaming and experience the same 'look and feel' through an O2 interface whether they are using wLANs or wide-area networks such as GPRS and, in the future, 3G. In some countries, wLAN usage can also be billed by prepaid and scratch cards, which are branded O2 and are also available to non-O2 customers.
O2 will concentrate on providing wLAN access in key locations such as airports, hotels and conference centres and primary train stations. This will be achieved through a strategy of partnering with third party site owners and wireless Internet Service Providers (WISPs), which eliminates the need to invest heavily in evolving wi-fi technology, combined with the deployment of a small number of strategically placed owned sites.
Kent Thexton, chief data and marketing officer, mmO2, said: "We are confident that the right strategy is to offer public wireless LANs as a complementary part of our mobile data proposition for customers. Although demand for standalone public wLAN services is relatively small, we believe seamless services based on a mix of local and wide area mobile networks have the potential to offer huge customer benefits and tangible commercial returns.
"We have invaluable experience in mobile data, as market leader, supported by a well developed and cost-effective strategy for mobile broadband through a series of strategic partnerships. This is underpinned by our current GPRS service, which now attracts 643,000 active users."
Forming the first phase of its entry into the UK market, O2 has partnered with leading wLAN enabler Excilan - a European-based company providing an authentication and payment platform - to offer customers bundled pricing packages via their existing mobile bill. The Excilan agreement allows O2 UK to provide access to an extensive network of sites worldwide, including the UK, without the need of a heavy capital outlay. O2 UK is also evaluating rolling out its own sites in high-profile places and is in discussions with a number of leading site partners as well as other wLAN aggregators and service providers.
O2 Germany has teamed up with leading provider's GlobalAirnet and WLAN AG (now part of Swisscom Eurospot) to support its increased presence. The wLAN service in Ireland was launched in March 2003 and there has been good progress to date with encouraging uptake of pre-paid cards aimed at business travellers sold by hotels. There are currently 17 live sites in operation and owned by O2 Ireland, which is adding more sites in line with customer demand.