11 July 2006

Affordable WiFi Comes to the UK?

I have been tracking the release of a new product into the UK market from The Cloud since it was announced earlier this year. The Ultra WiFi product is now available and promises unlimited WiFi for £11.99 a month (for a 12 month contract).

I have been struck by the complete inability of the wireless network providers to offer any attractive packages for the average person - especially as teasers. Hourly charges have in my mind been extortionate (circa £5 an hour), and of course, when you want it and when you have time to sign up are 2 different times. The all-you-can-eat charges have been very high until now.

In my case, I would really like access to the internet when I'm travelling around London (primarily) on business. I'm happy to pop into a coffee shop for instance for 5 minutes of quick surfing (and another reason a £5 an hour charge is silly - in fact time charges are silly because I have a perhaps irrational fear that I won't be properly logged off). I'd probably use it also for VoIP too. So, The Cloud's offering is quite tempting.

Until you look at the fine print, that is. There are two clear problems with the offering:

1. You are limited to only hotspots operated by the Cloud (and even some of those are currently disabled for this product). So, despite roaming arrangements, with this product you cannot access BTOpenzone, T-Mobile and others as part of the monthly charge. That severely limits it's usefulness IMHO, especially as their own HotSpot locator does not make it easy to find only The Cloud's access points. Even if they had to put a small extra charge on the roaming stations (eg a few pence per megabyte), then it would have made the product more useful. But right now, I think the limitation is too much.

2. The second limit is a bit naughtier still. Called "unlimited" and "all-you-can-eat" in various parts of the marketing, the fine print notes a fair usage policy of just 1GB a month. That is not very much and could be eaten up quickly if doing a simple 1 hour video conference for instance. Personally, I doubt I would use anything like 1GB a month (my home/office usage is around 2-3GB/month these days), but I feel a hard limit set so low is very disappointing.

Here's what a provider needs to do to offer a really compelling product in this country:
1. Offer a low flat rate entry cost for, say, up to 200MB/month for £5.99. I would sign up for this in an instant.
2. Additional MB can be downloaded for, say, 5p/MB up to some sort of cap, limiting total cost.
3. Use of ANY (or many more) WiFi access points subject to an additional small uplift (say a few/pence per MB, or less usefully, a few pence per minute).

Such an offering - lets' call it WiFi Pay-as-you-go - would be very compelling for those who wish to dip their toe into this without committing a large sum of money over 12 months for something that may not work for us. ADSL providers such as Metronet tried this tactic with much success, and in fact some element of PAYG has become prevalent in most ADSL contracts now with take-up in the UK very high. If WiFi is to become mainstream - and rival 3G - something like this is needed, and UltraWiFi is just not enough.

Anyone else have experience of the Cloud, or any views on these products? It seems to me that the WiFi providers have been very unambitious in the UK, and we should have a far greater market by now. What do you think? What's needed to make this more mainstream?

Tags: , , , ,

No comments: