Due to an influx of data traffic coming from smartphone and tablet folks who are increasingly downloading more and more data-heavy content such as apps, music and movies, British carrier O2 revealed on Wednesday plans to build a nationwide network of 15,000 wireless hotspots by 2013. First wireless hotspots are already being deployed in O2′s select stores and should go online by the end of March.

They also are planning on installing wireless base stations in other public locations, such as restaurants, hotels and more. What’s interesting about this is that O2 confirmed it will give everyone free access to its WiFi network, including rival carriers’ subscribers. This will be possible because the O2 WiFi service will be managed through partnerships with key venue owners, the carrier said in a statement:

Access to the hotspots will be through a simple sign-up process and will be free to both O2 and non-O2 mobile customers, providing seamless connectivity to a high quality network.

The sign up process will be auto provisioned for all O2 customers with Wi-Fi devices by the end of the year. All hotspots will be premium public hotspots, as opposed to using residential connections with limited bandwidth.

The move is also expected to intensify competition in the country as satellite television operator British Sky Broadcasting is rumored to acquire WiFi provider The Cloud, which operates mobile broadband and WiFi networks in the UK and Sweden.

As a result of this potential acquisition,  their users could access live television on the go, using their mobile gear, when in range of their wireless hotspots. 

O2, a privately-owned subsidiary of Telefónica, experienced issues last year stemming from data-hungry iPhone users who strained its cellular network, forcing the carrier to increase spending on its infrastructure.

This includes a 25 percent investment increase this year for its cellular network and building a nationwide WiFi network that should offload a portion of data traffic.

Only a quarter of its smartphone and tablet customers are using free public WiFi networks, O2 said, adding their upcoming WiFi network will change that.

If iPhone owners use those WiFi hotspots, O2′s cellular infrastructure won’ take a hit because those base stations are plugged into the company’s own fixed line broadband. O2 spent on average £1 million a day on its network infrastructure last year.

Source: O2