Nokia quits free London WiFi trial

Features

Nokia has dropped out of a three way partnership to bring free WiFi to London, using telephone boxes as sites for WLAN access points.

Last November, Nokia was one of three companies testing the use of the phone boxes to provide free, ad-sponsored, WiFi. The other two companies were Spectrum Interactive, which owns the phone boxes, and Selective Media, which is providing the location-based advertising platform.

At that point, Nokia was co-funding a trial of 26 access points across London, intending to assess usage stats to see if it could attach a monetisation model to the provision of free WiFi. One area Nokia was looking at, for example, was integration with Nokia Maps, to provide hotspot location information to users. Nokia said that a free WiFi service was "completely in line" with its priority to give its customers the best mobile user experience possible.

Now the other two companies in the trial partnership, Spectrum Interactive and Selective Media, have announced that they will start offering customers who log on to the WiFi hotspots vouchers for shops located nearby. They also have plans to expand WiFi coverage to all of Spectrum Interactive's 1,800 telephone boxes.

Spectrum said that its Spectrum’s “FREE Street WiFi” currently attracts around 25,000 unique users per month from the 28 hotspots it now has live in Westminster. Its voucher service will display deals to customers when they log-in to a hotspot. Customers will get free service when they accept  a promotional offer from an advertiser.

But Nokia will take no further part in the project. A brief statement from Nokia, provided to Mobile Europe, said, "Nokia were sponsors of the initial trial, although we are no longer involved in the project we are delighted to see the roll out offering more London Shoppers the opportunity to use WiFi.”

Nokia provided no reason as to why it has not continued its involvement in the project.

Previously it had said that users that signed on once would then automatically attach to any other Nokia hotspot SSIDs. It could be that a model that relied on an advertising offer at log-in was not compatible with Nokia's vision of the user experience. Clearly, automatic log-on would not provide the landing page opportunity for customer offers.

London is already set to benefit from free WiFi services from O2 properties (includind a recent deal to provide WiFi at Costa Coffee outlets), as well as rollout plans from Virgin Media and Sky. BT also offers free or inclusive access to its hotspots to BT Openzone/FON subscribers.

Mobile Europe has asked both Spectrum Interactive and Selective Media for comment. We'll update this post as and when they get back to us.

Update One, 14:00, 10 May.

Chris Bull, Founder of Selective Media has provided the following comment:
"For the last few months, the free Wi-Fi hotspots in London have been sponsored exclusively by Nokia as part of its Amazing Everyday campaign, supporting the launch of the Nokia Lumia 800. Following the completion of that successful campaign, we have now opened this opportunity up to more brands so that they can reach Londoners through targeted, location-based promotions. Plans are also in place to for a city-wide and national rollout of advertising-funded public Wi-Fi."