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Date:09/01/12

O2 UK to launch the largest free WiFi network in Europe

O2 UK on Friday announced plans to launch what it claims will be the largest free WiFi network in Europe after striking deals to roll out hotspots in two London boroughs.

Telefonica's U.K. arm said in a statement that it will begin installing metro wireless equipment on street furniture in a limited number of areas of Westminster, and the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea this month, with a view to extending coverage to millions of residents, businesses and visitors "over the longer term".

"This ground-breaking deal – the first of its kind in the U.K. – will see us deliver high quality connectivity across London in time for London 2012 [Olympics]," said Derek McManus, COO of O2 UK.

"Our longer-term aim is to expand our footprint of O2 WiFi, which is open to everyone, and also intelligently enhance our services at street level, where people need the network the most." O2 first revealed its plans to build a hotspot network that would rival those of BT Openzone and public WiFi provider The Cloud in January 2011.

The company said at the time it aims to operate double the number of hotspots currently offered by BT Openzone and The Cloud combined by 2013. "Our £500 million annual network investment programme is focussed on integrating new layers of technology into the existing network to enable a seamless and sustained customer experience," said McManus in O2's statement on Friday.

"We...believe that services should be delivered in the best possible way, across multiple networks and supported by different technologies." O2 is just one of a handful of players looking to offer free WiFi in London. Nokia in November 2011 began trialling a free WiFi service in partnership with WiFi specialist Spectrum Interactive.

The companies deployed 26 hotspots in phone boxes owned by Spectrum in some of the city's busiest areas. A large-scale rollout is planned for 2012 depending on the trial's success. Virgin Media is also eyeing its own London-wide free WiFi service.

The broadband, TV and mobile provider's CEO Neil Berkett confirmed in August 2011 that the company was in advanced talks with a number of London boroughs over deploying a free-to-use public WiFi network boroughs over deploying a free-to-use public WiFi network.



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