BT to Develop Global Wi-Fi

Reports in the press this weekend indicate that BT is planning build a global Wi-Fi network to enable customers to make cheap mobile calls routed over the internet anywhere in the world. The company is understood to be in talks with overseas internet and telecoms operators to sign roaming agreements. They could include rivals that have also developed Wi-Fi networks such as Germany’s Deutsche Telecom.

The advantages of Wi-Fi enabled phones increase in line with the number of places you can use the device. BT already has a roaming deal in the UK with Wi-Fi operator The Cloud, which gives BT customers access to 4,000 Wi-Fi hotspots in coffee bars, pubs and hotels, for instance.

Most business travellers have learned to their cost that mobile operators generally place a huge mark-up on calls made outside the country. By using VoIP and allowing users Wi-Fi access, BT could shave more than 90% off the cost of an international mobile voice call.

Adoption of BT’s mobile service rapidly increase once customers see the savings made by avoiding the mobile operators’ cellular networks where possible, claims BT’s head of mobility Steven Andrews. To date, BT has only signed up 14,000 mobile users, with new customers accounting for another 2,500 a month.

By the end of the year there will be about 20 handsets capable of switching between ordinary GSM mobile networks and the low-radius wireless networks (Wi-Fi) that BT is rolling out in 12 city centres across the UK. BT will not offer all 20, but a selection of the best. BT also hopes to convert millions of homes to Wi-Fi by making it the core technology of its BT Fusion service that provides BT customers with wireless access to BT’s network.

Encouraging customers to use Wi-Fi to move away from expensive cellular networks and on to BT’s internet-based network is a key element in BT’s strategy to undercut the mobile-phone operators’ network services.

BT could afford to give away mobile voice calls as a way to differentiate itself from the other internet services starting to offer combined communications and entertainment services over the internet.