Public Internet access provider Broadreach Networks will later this month roll out a series of branded Wi-Fi deals with a number of leading ISPs and mobile phone operators, the company has revealed.
On the same day, 25 March, Broadreach will stop offering free Wi-Fi, but will roll out a series of what it claims will be very cost-effective access tariffs.
The branded access packages will allow the likes of Vodafone and Orange - two names mentioned by Broadreach CEO Magnus McEwen-King, though not yet confirmed as the company's partners - to offer customers Wi-Fi access that presents their preferred look and feel from start.
Broadreach, which operates under the ReadyToSurf brand, has set up its 200-odd hotspots to broadcast multiple SSIDs - the codenames each access point uses to identify itself to clients. Broadreach will initially offer up eight SSIDs in addition to its own, on a site-by-site basis.
Whichever SSID the customer chooses to access will take them direct to the correct login page. Today, Wi-Fi users have to select their preferred provider from a list - Broadreach's functionality eliminates that step and should make for a smoother, more easy log in.
According to McEwen-King, the move will allow partners to promote their access packages - whether they are paid for by the customer or bundled with a regular mobile phone subscription - as their own.
The move makes sense both for Broadreach, which needs to increase the number of people using - and, crucially, paying to use - its hotspots, and for providers who want to ensure they can offered a differentiated service that plays to the strengths of their brands. It nicely plays to their 'cake and eat it too' tendencies: to offer Internet access is if they had rolled out their own network, without have to roll out their own network.
Broadreach will "auction" its eight SSIDs, giving them a scarcity value, though McEwen-King admitted that it may well add eight more, depending on demand. The number of 'virtual' SSIDs it can broadcast is theoretically unlimited, but there are limitations on the systems' ability to cope with large numbers, he said.
For customers, it raises the profile of WLAN access - while they might wonder who this ReadyToSurf lot are, punters know who Orange and Vodafone are. And it makes roaming a rather more seamless experience by eliminating the need to log on to someone else's network.
Broadreach's own customers, meanwhile, will soon be offered all-you-can-eat Wi-Fi access for a single six-month or annual fee. Charges to punters who aren't already ReadyToSurf customers or those who fail to pre-register will be higher, but those who have will be offered unlimited access for "a lot less than 100 pounds for six months", said McEwen-King. We understand that £50 ($90) is "not far off the mark".
That compares rather well with the £85; ($154) BTOpenzone charges for a month's unlimited access. T-Mobile charges by the day at £16.50 ($30) a pop. ®