UK Wi-Fi network wins 'significant' VC funding

3i cash to help The Cloud sell to service providers

UK Wi-Fi provider The Cloud has secured its latest round of funding, from VCs 3i and Accel Partners, the trio announced today.

Terms of the deal - how much cash the VCs are putting in and what proportion of the company they get in return - were not disclosed. The level of funding was described as "significant... enough to fund The Cloud's current business plan".

What is that business plan? For starters, to expand its hotspot wholesaling business "internationally", which essentially means further into Europe. Not so very long ago, Cloud CEO George Polk told The Register he had no interest in taking the company into the US market, which he described as "too crowded".

The Cloud is currently rolling out sites in the UK, at a rate of 100 a week, it claims - almost certainly as part of its deal with its partnership with payphone company NWP Spectrum, which owns 10,000 public phones in the UK. The Cloud is currently at 4300 hotspots in the UK, which isn't that much more than the 3000-odd it had in place by the end of 2003. It may be adding 100 a week now, but it clearly hasn't been through much of 2004.

Polk also said the company will develop "ease of use" software that makes it easier for customers to connect and sign on to Wi-Fi networks and easily roam across networks from a variety of providers.

However, The Cloud's business remains focused on wholesaling - selling access not to the end user but to other service providers. Many of the UK's key W-Fi providers are taking the same approach, widely seem as the best way of getting large numbers of punters using and - crucially - paying to use the networks.

Today, The Cloud launched a Carrier Services division to better bring fixed and wireless telcos, broadband Internet providers, corporate remote access companies and the like on board. The new operation sounds not unlike rival UK Wi-Fi provider Broadreach Networks' 'white box' offering, which likewise gives such service providers own-branded hotspots without the need to set them up themselves.

Polk reckons service providers are now geared up to start making such deals, having finally taken Wi-Fi seriously enough to put in place teams to explore the business opportunities and cut deals. Orange, for example, is already doing so in France. ®

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