O2 to fling out free Wi-Fi for all

O2 is planning to deploy 13,000 Wi-Fi hotspots in the UK, over the next two years, each of which will grant users free internet access, as long as you register your mobile number at one. Amazingly, the network won’t just be for O2 customers: anyone with a mobile phone will be able to sign up to the service, which will provide free internet access while logging the customer’s location and details – information that could be used for better delivery of targeted advertising.

The costs for the new Wi-Fi hotspots will all be paid for by the venue, which might also like to make use of that advertising channel. Newly appointed MD of O2 Wi-Fi Gavin Franks expects to see venues such as supermarkets and department stores offering free 02-branded Wi-Fi.

O2 already offers its premium subscribers (including iPhone users) access to hotspots run by The Cloud and BT OpenZone totalling around 7,500, and those deals will remain in place while O2 deploys its new free-to-all Wi-Fi network.

Users wanting to take advantage will need to provide a mobile phone number, from any network, which will be confirmed with a text message. O2 then links the number to the MAC code of the kit connected, enabling it to automatically authorise future connections as well as spotting when the customer enters an area covered – enabling the delivery of the aforementioned advertising by text message or MMS. The MAC link supposedly allows your phone to be uniquely identified by the system, although it is well-known that MAC addresses can be changed on many devices, so it will be interesting to see if this actually works.

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