A new Wi-Fi service, promising quick single account access to most of the UK's hotspots, has been launched by Divine Wireless.
Claiming to be the first of its kind, the company allows users to connect to over 15,000 hotspots - about 90 per cent of the total - covering hotspots run by BT Openzone, The Cloud and Surf and Sip, with others apparently in the pipeline.
The service costs 8p per minute, which equates to £4.80 per hour, which is slightly cheaper than BT OpenZone's single-block £6 per hour, but Divine's advantage is that charges are calculated per minute so users pay only for time they use. So if you only want to check email or have a 10-minute browse of the Web, you don't have a high minimum fee to pay. Vouchers for Divine's service will be available from January 2007 at major high street retailers.
A main benefit is the single account that's portable across different hotspot providers, although this is mitigated somewhat by the growing tendency for hotspot providers to develop links with one another. Divine's CEO Guy Rosenhoiz said: "If you have 20 minutes to spare whilst waiting for a train the last thing you need is to spend half of your time registering for a service you are unlikely to use again."
This highlights the point that the system's tariff is mainly suited to occasional, short-burst access rather than an afternoon's surfing in a coffee shop. Those needing more regular access would find better value by using a company offering a monthly tariff for around 20, although most require a 12-month contract.
It's also the case that many councils and other bodies are planning to offer city-wide Wi-Fi coverage, sometimes for free, which plants a question mark over the longevity of this business model.
Divine said the service will soon be expanded to offer Wi-Fi access in an thousands of additional locations across Europe and the USA, with more UK hotspots being added weekly.