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O2 Wi-Fi slips into McDonalds, steals The Cloud's lunch

Snatched just in time for the Olympics

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O2 continues to expand its free Wi-Fi offering, this time donning a hairnet to push into 1,200 McDonalds hotspots which will become O2 branded just in time for the London Olympics.

Not that there will be any additional Wi-Fi coverage; the clown-branded eateries already offer free Wi-Fi connections complete with family-friendly filtering, but over the next few months those connections will switch from The Cloud onto O2's free Wi-Fi service as companies are now competing to see who can provide the most stuff for free.

That's free at the point of delivery – someone still has to pay for it obviously. Both The Cloud and O2 Wi-Fi earn a living by charging the premises involved, on the basis that free Wi-Fi is a promotional tool, so O2's business model calls for McDonalds to be footing the bill. But O2 is no stranger to the loss leader – it's already paying for blanket Wi-Fi across two London boroughs – so one imagines that the deal with McDonalds was extremely competitive.

McDonalds Wi-Fi is interesting in that is one of the few Wi-Fi networks that filters out adult content (the mobile-phone networks do but Wi-Fi providers generally don't). McDonalds even carries the Mumsnet seal of approval, and O2 says it will continue to provide that filtering service – though it wasn't sharing the details of who will provide the underlying infrastructure.

Previous filters were DNS-based, but that has become less reliable where a single host (such as YouTube) provides such a range of content. In most cases it won't matter. Borderline sites – such as the former News of The World website and gay-themed chat services, which have both been disputed – can fall on either side but it's interesting as part of the ongoing trend towards requiring an "opt in" to adult services, as pioneered by the mobile operators.

McDonalds is something of a pioneer in Wi-Fi, the clown has made numerous attempts to create a viable service going back to its first charged-for Wi-Fi offering in 2002 (branded Cometa), and free Wi-Fi for the more-salubrious parts of California a year later. These days the clown claims to provide wireless connectivity to 750,000 customers a month.

From around the time of the London Olympics (which O2 coyly describes as "this summer's festivities", since as a non-sponsor it's forbidden to mention the games) the logo on McDonalds Wi-Fi service will change, along with the logon process, but more importantly the market for consumer Wi-Fi provision is becoming a lot more competitive. ®

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