Cashpoints to offer wifi - what's the endgame for BT Openzone?
BT Openzone are rolling out wifi everywhere they can squeeze it in at the moment, and a new deal will see it dispensed from cash machines along with your reddies. The Register reports they've struck a deal with Cashbox, those folks that supply stand-alone machines in shops, bars and neighbourhoods where carrying a wallet isn't an option you'd naturally consider.
These cashpoints already have a broadband connection to handle customer transactions, so carrying data from wifi customers is no great technical feat. A trial involving ten cash machines will initially take place before both companies look to roll out the service to over 2,000 sites across the country.
BT is fast becoming a dominant player in providing wifi access in the UK; a recent deal with Starbucks replacing T-Mobile sews up over 650 locations and any business with a BT business hub can offer wifi to customers, for free or by selling access, plus BT Openzone already provide blanket coverage in a dozen cities as well as partnering several major UK businesses.
But with the likes of 3G access becoming prevalent on smartphones and the popularity of broadband dongles for laptops, why is BT so keen to roll out wifi across the nation? Wouldn't they be better playing to their strengths and providing digital technology for home customers? Perhaps not; maybe the likes of BT are playing a long-game that will in time provide a rich revenue stream - not from consumers (although the cost of BT Openzone access is still outrageously steep), but from mobile service operators.
As 3G usage by smartphones and laptops increases, service providers may struggle to cope with demand - shifting some of that usage to wifi would help relieve the strain. The likes of O2's deal with BT Openzone to allow unlimited wifi access for iPhone owners is presented as a perk for the consumer, but given how data-rich the iPhone experience is, it no doubt helps out O2 as well.
£22 billion was shelled out by operators when the 3G spectrum was auctioned off in 2000, and there's likely to be a shake-up of spectrum and further auctions next year. If the likes of O2 and other operators can count on reliable wifi coverage across the majority of the population, that would significantly alter their strategy for delivering data services, and may mean using BT Openzone becoming an everyday occurrence for consumers.