EE plans 'white label' WiFi services for retailers and other venues

EE proved to be the second operator at this week's WiFi Offload event to dismiss the immediate need to offload data from the UK operator's LTE network, but instead presented a somewhat alternative approach it is taking in an effort to monetise WiFi: selling white label WiFi services to venues in order to make a profit.

According to Graham Cove, director of WiFi at the Deutsche Telekom and Orange-France joint venture, his strategy is to approach venue owners such as retailers and sell them a white label WiFi service that they can package under their own brands and offer to customers as an in-store service. "We used to run WiFi under T-Mobile-branded hotspots," commented Cove. He now believes that operators no longer call the shots when it comes to free WiFi services, such as those in coffee shops.

What's more, EE will soon stop offering BT WiFi as a value-added service within in its own 4GEE LTE plans, although it will maintain its Virgin Media services.

One of EE's first customers for the white label WiFi service is UK supermarket chain Asda, which signed an MVNO deal and in-store WiFi network contract with EE last year. Cove said 750,000 Asda customers have already signed up to use the Asda-branded WiFi network. "That is hugely valuable to a venue owner," said Cove.

EE's proposition includes validating mobile numbers and sending the information to Asda, but the two companies are still working on the terms and conditions for how much real-time data will be shared.

At the same time, Cove is aware that his proposition will cause ructions even within his own company. Indeed, promoting WiFi over cellular "is unusual," he said. "I do run up against some opposition."

Dr. Matthias Siebert, responsible for mobile access within the Europe & Technology group of EE parent company Deutsche Telekom, said it would be more beneficial to venue owners if an operator kept control of the data generated from customer use of in-store WiFi services because venues would then gain a broader overview of customer shopping habits.

However, Siebert added that Deutsche Telekom is also looking at similar models to EE as part of its enterprise WiFi strategies.

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