Murdoch’s BSkyB buys Wi-Fi operator The Cloud

27 Jan 2011

A UK Wi-Fi operator co-founded by Irish entrepreneur Norman Crowley has been bought for close to stg£50m by BSkyB, it emerged today.

It emerged today that Rupert Murdoch’s BSkyB has bought The Cloud – which now has more than 5,000 public Wi-Fi hotspots across the UK – for just under stg£50m.

After Crowley’s e-commerce services company was closed in 2001 by Eircom, he and other ex-Ebeon workers established the Inspired Gaming Group in the UK with eight employees and at the same time he established The Cloud to deploy public Wi-Fi hotspots across the UK.

By 2006, Crowley floated Inspired, which had grown to 2,500 people and had revenues of US$500m, on the London Stock Exchange. A year earlier he sold The Cloud to venture capital firm 3i. Today, Crowley’s energies are focused on an award-winning green-tech firm called Crowley Carbon, education and food company Blife and charity The Next Step dedicated to disabled children in the former Soviet country of Georgia.

Why Murdoch wants Wi-Fi

Murdoch’s decision to buy a Wi-Fi network across the UK fits neatly into the direction that TV and media is heading – a world where media tablets, smartphones and connected TV will send content dynamically in a myriad of directions, whether in the home or on the street.

“To support our mobile content activities we are announcing the acquisition of The Cloud. It gives us ownership of over 5,000 public Wi-Fi networks across the UK, ensuring customers can access our online services at a network of convenient locations,” BSkyB said in its second-half financials.

As well as supporting Sky Mobile TV, the acquisition will also enable BSkyB to offer its residential broadband customers access to Wi-Fi hotspots on the move.

BSkyB says its broadband business saw its highest growth in two years. BSkyB revenues grew 15pc year on year to stg£3.2bn.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years