O2 UK: LTE is 'years' away, but free WiFi network is in the works

While O2 Germany prepares to deploy commercial LTE services, the company's UK subsidiary has admitted that it will be years before anything similar happens in the UK.

"Our first trial in Slough was very successful, and we'll be running more trials over the next 12 months," Tim Sefton, new business development director at O2 UK, told TechRadar. "But we're looking at years rather than months before we'll have a commercial 4G network in the UK."

The UK company is blaming the delay on the lack of suitable spectrum, with the telecom regulator Ofcom saying that additional frequencies would not become available for auction until 2012, meaning a commercial launch sometime in 2014.

However, O2 UK has announced that it plans to launch a "market changing" WiFi business that will offer free Internet to customers of all networks through selected partners such as shops and restaurants.

The new standalone business, O2 WiFi, said that the network would have more than 15,000 hotspots across the UK by 2013, double the current number offered by rivals BT Openzone and The Cloud combined. The company added that initial deployment would take place across its 450 retail outlets starting in February.

Gavin Franks, newly hired as MD of O2 Wi-Fi, has described the current Wi-Fi hotspot market as "stagnant," maintaining that UK businesses are increasingly looking to use WiFi to attract customers.

Franks told Mobile News: "This is an entirely new business unit, a standalone business within the organisation, and not just another service being put out there. What we are doing will transform the market in terms of Wi-Fi."

The objective behind this free service would appear to be to shift data subscribers away from using O2's overloaded 3G network, and attract users from other networks with the offer of promotions related to their location. This is sure to include adverts targeting these non-O2 users with tempting offers to migrate across to O2.

Separately, BT's present domination of the UK's WiFi hotspot market could be under threat if Sky is successful in its bid to acquire The Cloud, a Wi-Fi service provider to pubs and restaurants. If Sky does manage to close the deal, then it is expected to offer its 2.8 million fixed broadband subscribers access to the network in the UK.

For more:
- see this TechRadar article
- see this Broadband Genie article
- see this Mobile News article
- see this Financial Times article (sub. req.)
- see this Pocket-lint article

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