Having long played down the strategic importance of Wi-Fi, Vodafone has finally taken the plunge and launched Wi-Fi services on the Irish market. From today, postpaid customers of the mobile network – some 530,000 people – will be able to avail of 140 hotspots across the country.
Vodafone will not run them directly but has signed partnership agreements with Wi-Fi operators Bitbuzz and BT Openzone. The company claims it now offers access to more hotspots than any other operator in Ireland. Bitbuzz is believed to have more than 60 hotspots in operation while BT Openzone has about 70-75.
The value of Vodafone’s investment in its Wi-Fi initiative was not disclosed.
According to a Vodafone spokeswoman, the sudden decision to launch Wi-Fi services should not be construed as a strategic U-turn by the company. “Every new technology needs time to bed down and we’d never turn our back on any one technology. We believe that Wi-Fi fits into our data strategy because it serves a different type of customer. GPRS covers the whole country but it run at a relatively slow data speed; 3G is faster but is concentrated mainly in urban areas. What Wi-Fi provides is small pockets of superfast connectivity. It’s a different option again and it complements our other services,” said the spokeswoman.
She added that Vodafone sees the deals with Bitbuzz and BT Openzone as the first of a number it intends to sign as it ramps up its Wi-Fi services.
Rather than using prepaid vouchers, customers are billed for Wi-Fi usage through their mobile account. The service costs €5 for 30 minutes or €10 per hour. However, they will be required to pre-register once for the service. They will also be able to use the service across a large network of European hotspots without incurring roaming charges.
Vodafone Wi-Fi locations include a range of hotels, cafes, airport lounges and pubs. Specific venues include the Powerscourt Town House, the BA lounge in Dublin Airport, Dun Loaghaire ferry port, the Insomnia chain of coffee shops and selected Statoil service stations.
“This is an important milestone in the development of broadband services in Ireland,” commented Chris Handley, interim head of data products at Vodafone Ireland. “Our customers can now avail of a broadband internet access service that is complementary to our 3G and GPRS services. We will shortly be announcing the launch of a device that combines the benefits of all three access networks – GPRS, 3G and Wi-Fi – combined in one data card.”
By Brian Skelly