T-Mobile looks set to limit its UK hotspot footprint to no more than 2,000 locations, according to the country manager in charge of public wireless LAN services.
The UK arm of Deutsche Telekom AG’s mobile division will concentrate instead on choosing the best locations for its hotspots and maximizing the exposure of its service to enterprises, especially as part of its combined hotspot and 3G offering.
Jay Saw, manager of public wireless LAN (pWLAN) with T-Mobile UK, said the mobile operator expects to enlarge its WLAN footprint to around 1,000 locations by early next year. However, he said T-Mobile’s strategy for hotspot deployment looked likely to limit its eventual roll out to only around double that number.
Do we go above 2,000? I don’t know really. We want a footprint that meets the needs of our business customers, saw told ComputerWire.
T-Mobile currently boasts around 600 hotspots in the UK, the majority of which are located, as in T-Mobile’s other geographies, in high-profile, easily recognized Starbucks coffee shops, although even more are sited in Texaco gas and service stations. Other hotspot providers have failed to achieve the same level of recognition for their services, said Saw.
We want to build a network where hotspots are easy to find. Starbucks is the only international coffee shop chain. The first thing Americans do when they get off a plane is go to Starbucks. Building a network mainly in hotels will suit you if you go from hotel to hotel but how often do you do that?
Saw said T-Mobile sees the build out of its own hotspot network as a key differentiator in its bid for corporate wireless data accounts compared with its UK rivals.
In the UK, most enterprises have traditionally bought mobile voice services from either Vodafone or O2. While all have now launched or in the process of launching 3G services, only T-Mobile has its own hotspot network.
Vodafone is relying on BT Openzone to provide its 3G users with separately-charged pWLAN access, while O2 has agreements with several hotspot service providers but does not yet offer a joined up service with 3G. Orange has yet to announce a UK hotspot tie up.
Saw said such add-on services over-complicate the charging and billing of wireless data access and do not offer the instant recognition of Starbucks when it comes to WiFi. T-Mobile also claims the world’s best GPRS roaming agreements.
What we want to do is get away from worrying about price, said Saw. We see WiFi as a useful complementary technology to 3G and GPRS. By bringing it all together you get some economies of scale.
T-Mobile UK has recently introduced a hotspot-only tariff of 40 pounds ($71.2) a month aimed at business users. The operator’s all-you can-eat hotspot and 3G/GPRS service is priced at 70 pounds ($124.6) a month.