BT is looking to make it easier for businesses to add a guest Wi-Fi account.
Customers of the British carrier's BT Business Total Broadband service have been offered a firmware upgrade that would turn business premises into a hotspot for users of BT Openzone, its roaming partners and the Fon shared public Wi-Fi service.
Activation will set up a separate virtual network with a different SSID (service set identifier), keeping the wireless LAN of the business secure. Businesses, such as shops or restaurants, could even create a new revenue stream by selling BT Openzone vouchers to their customers, BT said.
The new feature is an extension of BT's consumer strategy for hotspots, in which it lets home broadband customers turn on the Fon service to share Internet access in the immediate area. Although the hotspots that businesses could create with the added feature wouldn't be open to just anyone, they might significantly expand the coverage available to Openzone and Fon customers. There are about 170,000 BT Business Total Broadband customers with the 2700 Total Broadband Hubs around the UK, according to the carrier.
When a new version of the BT business hub comes out in July, it will come with the hotspot feature built in and customers will have the choice to opt out of using it, according to BT, which suggests participation might grow faster as the new gear rolls out.
Although the citywide free or paid Wi-Fi networks promised in recent years are still few and far between, the number of hotspots available to subscribers of services such as BT Openzone is gradually growing. Earlier this year, US hotspot companies Boingo Wireless and Wayport made a deal that gave Boingo customers access to Wayport networks at about 9,000 McDonald's restaurants as well as other locations. Mobile service consolidator iPass sells subscriptions that can get customers on to about 95,000 Wi-Fi hotspots worldwide, including about 45,000 in Europe and 25,000 in Asia.
There are already 2,500 BT Openzone Premier hotspots at hotels, airports, railroad stations and other sites, plus hotspots covering the centres of 12 cities. More than 70,000 BT consumers have joined the Fon programme, BT said.