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Orange launches Wi-Fi service

Late and just as expensive.

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Orange will launch its own Wi-Fi service on Monday, lagging competitors by several years, and continuing the debilitating price-point of £6 an hour.

The mobile phone company will offer unified cellular data and Wi-Fi service in the UK, modelled after an existing service in France.

Orange hasn't built its own Wi-Fi network in the UK, but will offer customers access to hotspots operated by BT Openzone, BT and WeRoam. The service will also include hotspots operated by Orange France in Accor Hotels in the UK. The network will consist of 1,700 UK hotspots and 12,000 globally.

To use the hotspots, Orange customers will need to send a text message from their mobile phones and receive a username and password to sign into the network using their laptops. The text message automatically triggers the addition of the £6 per hour charge to the customer's bill. Customers can use their 60 minutes of access over multiple connections within a 24-hour period.

From January, Orange customers will be able to choose to subscribe to Business Everywhere, a new service that combines cellular data and Wi-Fi under one billing plan. "It brings together GPRS, 3G, Wi-Fi, billing and service into one integrated offering," said Alastair MacLeod, VP of business solutions for Orange UK.

Orange isn't releasing specific pricing plans until the launch. The plans will cost a set amount each month but won't include a specified limit to usage on any of the networks. Instead, a customer's account will tick down based on usage of any of the networks, each of which carry different tariffs.

Access to 3G and GPRS networks will be charged based on how much data users download and charges for access to the Wi-Fi network will be based on minutes of use. The cost per minute or per megabyte will vary depending on the price plan.

Orange is behind its competitors in offering Wi-Fi. Vodafone and O2 launched hotspot services in 2003. T-Mobile and BT also offer a range of services that combine Wi-Fi and cellular data access in integrated billing plans.

The timing for delivering a combined cellular data and Wi-Fi service is right now, claimed MacLeod. "The reason we're doing this now is that we want to give customers the choice and flexibility to use whatever suits their needs." Wi-Fi is now an essential offering to give customers their choice of access technologies, he said.



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