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O2 offers free Wi-Fi to all and sundry, whether you're an O2 customer or not

O2 new national Wi-Fi network is free of charge, to anyone and everyone, whether they're O2 customers or not. And there isn't even a catch...

Free Wi-Fi! Getcher free Wi-Fi! We love a free wireless connection for faster Internet and video gubbins while we're aht an' abaht, all without eating up our 3G data allowance. Three cheers for O2, then, which is about to open up a national Wi-Fi network free of charge, to everyone, whether they're O2 customers or not. And there isn't even a catch...

Alright, perhaps a small catch: location, location, location. O2 wifi will start off by replacing 450 Cloud sites, in its stores and offices. That means if there's a Cloud hotspot in any of your regular haunts it'll now be free, but if there isn't an O2 Store nearby you'll have to wait until O2 expands the network to other shops, restaurants and grotty bars.

O2 reckons that by 2013, O2 wifi will provide more than twice the number of hotspots offered by BT Openzone and the Cloud combined.

If you're an O2 customer with a smart phone or tablet, you'll be automatically signed up. Non-O2 customers will need to sign up themselves before they can use the service. Your phone or tablet will recognise hotspots you've previously used, but when you log in to a new spot you'll have to click OK to a login screen, known as a splash screen.

The Cloud has a Wi-Fi FastConnect app that automatically logs you into its hotspots, so we'd like to see O2 develop something similar.

So what's in it for O2? It needs to ease the burden of increased Web traffic on its 3G data network, seeing as we're all so busy Facebooking and YouTubing on our iPhones and iPads. Switching to Wi-Fi makes for quicker surfing and frees up the data network, but nobody likes paying for hotspots while they're out and about. Hence O2 is making it as easy as possible to jump on to Wi-Fi on the go.

It's good to see O2 is actually tackling the issue of increased use of the Web and Web-connected apps rather than just moaning about it -- or worse.

T-Mobile recently decided the best way to tackle increased data traffic was to eviscerate customers' data plans, huffily informing us that watching videos and other Web use should be kept for home -- this despite the fact that those crafty T-Mobsters advertise those very activities as part of the wonder of their smart phones.

The network backed down in the face of well-deserved scorn and opprobrium, but the damage is done and T-Mobile has lost a lot of friends.

Virgin Media is also reportedly planning a Wi-Fi network to ease data traffic. With BT offering free mobile Wi-Fi access to its home broadband customers, it seems a good time to be a smart-phone surfer.