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Monday, September 06, 2010

BT WiFi smartphone application

I've just seen BT's announcement of its new iPhone and Android app, offering free WiFi access at its Openzone and FON hotspots to its Total Broadband subscribers.

I'm trying to think through the purpose of this, given that it doesn't directly generate any extra revenue for BT, either in terms of the app download or hotspot access fees.

My initial take is that it is primarily aimed at making BT's ADSL service look better value to reduce churn, or tempt across new customers. I've been using the free Openzone WiFi access on my laptop for a while, but not generally on my iPhone. I see it as a useful value-add that offsets the fact my home broadband isn't the cheapest or fastest I could get.

But it could also be a way of doing a more convenient "managed offload" solution for the UK's mobile operators, rather than the current approach which needs separate logins at the hotspot for Vodafone, Orange etc. While some users are able/happy to navigate through the "WiFi roaming" pull-down menus or splash pages, I bet that others are put off. If all that could be done at the back end, recognising the device and its host operator automatically without user intervention, it would improve compliance and allow BT to tell O2 or Vodafone or 3 exactly how much of their macro data was being offloaded.

Alternatively, it could just be a stealthy approach to get a BT-branded client onto a lot of smartphones for use in WiFi zones.... with the second or third upgrade suddenly adding extra new features such as BT VoIP or Vision IPTV or something else. I'm a firm believer that an upcoming trend will be operators launching apps to run over each others' phones/networks - if their PR departments can work out a way of sidestepping accusations of hypocrisy over disparaging use of the term "over the top". Actually, BT has some prior history here - I believe it was the first to launch a VoIP client (for Corporate Fusion) intended to operate on other operator-supplied devices.


Gabriel Brown said...

Not sure of the details about the client, etc.

But the FON hotspot estate looks interesting. BT has plans to open this up to to its mobile operator customers too, similar to OpenZone is now.

Potentially this would have noticeable benefits for end-users: better coverage for data services where 3G doesn't reach, etc.

Peter Stevens said...

I think you are right about it being a way for BT to reduce the customer churn. If you are out and about a lot then it does sound like it could be an attractive option for keeping your mobile data bills down.