Easy to use public Wi-Fi network that is transparent once users have passed the login page. Excellent support.
Slightly more expensive than competing services, some of which are free at selected coffee shops.
BT is the U.K.'s incumbent telco and, as you'd expect, the service is one of the most well promoted, as well as having the best coverage. There are cheaper options, but the network provides a stress-free, secure user experience.
Since our last look at this product in June 2002, BT has completed roaming arrangements with several other networks and now has quite a healthy coverage of most major cities in the U.K.
OpenZone users can also roam on to third party networks such as those from Telia Homerun and The Cloud, but the roaming is relatively seamless so users will think they are still using the OpenZone network.
Last time around we criticized BT for failing to encrypt the login sessions to the OpenZone welcome page, allowing - in theory at least - anyone with a sniffer package to eavesdrop the logon procedure and steal a user's ID and password.
We are happy to report that BT has tightened its login procedures considerably, requiring the use of SSL when logging in. As a result, it's now almost impossible to envisage an ID/password combination being stolen using electronic eavesdropping.
We were also critical of the OpenZone client software's quirkiness in not fully supporting the use of VPN software once the underlying WiFi network login had been completed. This has also been addressed, and users are now free to use almost any Wi-Fi/web access software when accessing the OpenZone network.
The effect of these changes has been to galvanise the usage of the service. It is starting to be used by more and more people, mainly in business, when travelling in the United Kingdom.
At the time of writing, OpenZone users have access to around 600 hotspots across the U.K., up from 400 in June, and they claim to be on target for around 4,000 by the end of 2004. Most of these hotspots are, we suspect, thanks to the expansion of roaming networks such as The Cloud.
BT offers a variety of access packages to OpenZone, starting with pay-as-you-go deals at £6 for an hour and £15 for a 24-hour period. Subscriptions start at £10 a month for two hours surfing in that month, ranging up to £85 a month for all-you-can-use.
A couple of hotels we visited support OpenZone, and the reception staff are well versed in explaining how the service operates.