Wi-Fi provider, The Cloud, has announced a free application that lets iPhone users on the O2 network access the company's 22,000 Wi-Fi access points for nothing.

The application, Fast Connect, comes with a hotspot locator for The Cloud's network of European Wi-Fi access points, and will connect automatically if one comes within range. As new hotspots come on line, the app is able to update its list of access points.

"We strongly suspect only a fraction of O2 iPhone customers are aware of this free service and would consequently encourage them to download the app from the app store to get quick and free access to our network," said The Cloud CEO, Steve Nicholson.

The Fast Connect application can also be installed on iPod Touch, the forthcoming iPad and Mac or PC laptops.

Being able to connect to The Cloud is not in itself new for O2 users, who have had such a feature as part of their mobile broadband package since April 2008. The ‘new' bit in this announcement is the ability to use the Fast Connect app with the iPhone in a way that integrates with an O2 subscription. The innovation of Fast Connect itself is that it claims to make public Wi-Fi easy to find and use.

O2's problem has always been tardy investment in mobile broadband and using a public Wi-Fi network for Internet access was seen as buying it time while it improves coverage. That is clever in that The Cloud's network offers access in convenient places in cities such as London, but does draw attention to the limits if the company's 3G network.

By contrast, The Cloud's task is to build its subscriber base among users who take public - and usually free - Wi-Fi for granted. The O2 deal must be worth something while it sets out to do that.