We didn't see this one coming - O2 has just announced that it will be launching a public Wi-Fi network, with free access for everyone, no matter if you're an O2 customer or not.

O2 will begin the scheme by replacing its existing 450 Cloud hotspots in its retail and office estate and by 2013 it states that it will offer "at least double the number of premium hotspots currently offered by BT Openzone and The Cloud combined". 

The hotspots will be located in shops, restaurants and retail outlets amongst other places and you'll be able to get on the network through a simple sign-up process. O2 customers will be automatically signed-in. 

O2’s new business development director Tim Sefton said:

“Building networks is a core capability. We have pioneered the explosion of mobile data over the last three years and know better than anyone where people are accessing data. O2 Wifi hotspots will bring high quality public Wi-fi access to the majority of mobile users.    

“Only 20 per cent of people who have access to free public Wi-Fi on O2 tariffs actively use it despite the majority of devices being Wi-Fi enabled. We know that Wi-Fi as a technology has great potential and can be a very fast service, however customers are discouraged by barriers which include complexity in activation, uncertainty of where Wi-Fi is free and the variable quality of the current experience.       

“O2 is integrating new layers of technology into the existing network to enable a seamless and sustained customer experience. We are technology-agnostic and driven entirely by our customers’ needs. We believe that services should be delivered in the best possible way, across multiple networks, supported by different technologies.”

All sounds good so far, we're investigating the catch and will let you know if and when we find one.