BT has today launched a mobile internet service designed to complement its home broadband packages. BT Total Broadband costs £5 a month more than its top-end BT Option 3 service.
Launching for an initial price of £23.99 a month (for the first three months), the BT Total Broadband Anywhere service comes with a free HTC S710 or S620 quad-band Windows Mobile 6.0 handset and unlimited Wi-Fi use at BT Openzone hotspots.
BT believes the Total Broadband Anywhere service "offers the most complete broadband experience, both at home and out and about".
Spokesman Warren Buckley, BT's group director for mobility and convergence, told PC Advisor that the broadband ISP had decided to focus on what people can do with their broadband access, rather than simply offering broadband access for its own sake.
"Mobile access is not where our space is," Buckley told PC Advisor. "We're interested in what people can use that service for and how they experience broadband."
Buckley likened the Total Broadband Anywhere offering to that already on offer to home users in that it offers value-added services rather than simply being a low-cost product.
Customers signing up for the new mobile service will need to take out an 18-month contract costing £23.99 a month for the first three months; thereafter the service will cost £29.99 a month. For that users get up to 8Mbps broadband and unlimited access to the web via a BT Fon hotspot of which there are more than 82,000 in the UK. Wi-Fi access at any of BT's 2,500 Openzone hotspots and Broadband Talk calls are also included.
The handsets come with a minimum of 50 minutes of any network calls, 50 text messages and 10MB of GPRS data downloads per month. Customers who want more generous phone call and text message allowances can opt for packages offering between 150 and 600 minutes a month for between £10 and £30 on top of the basic Anywhere package.
Up to six handsets can be associated with a single household account and BT intends to extend the range of handsets offered as part of the deal so different family members can each have their own choice of phone.
In areas where no 3G of Wi-Fi service is available, customers will be dependent on the 2.5G GPRS connectivity of their smartphone to provide internet and email access.
BT foresees three strata of BT Total Broadband Anywhere customer: one that signs up for the service and immediately uses the provided BT ToGo handset as their primary mobile phone; a second that eventually moves from their existing handset to the BT ToGo one having had both in operation initially, and a third category that keeps their own phone.
Having initiated the market for self-install home broadband products in 2002, BT is easily the largest provider of ADSL broadband in the UK.
Two years ago, in a bid to distinguish itself from the pure broadband providers (for which BT Wholesale and BT Retail were providing the infrastructure to the other ISPs), BT made a concerted play for the home broadband market with the launch of BT Total Broadband.
BT Total Broadband combines a home phone line rental package with reduced-price calling plans and various levels of ADSL broadband provision for a fixed monthly fee. Depending on the option chosen, the customer enjoys Wi-Fi, IPTV (TV programmes delivered via their broadband setup) and VoIP (voice over internet protocol) phone calls. Online file backup, webmail and security are also included.
There are now 2 million BT Home Hubs in the UK and BT says its Vision product has been similarly successful.
BT Total Broadband Anywhere strengthens this provision, allowing users to create online backups of photos and video taken with their handset and sending them to their BT Digital Vault using a one-step Snap & Send feature on their BT ToGo phone.
Yahoo Mail is provided as the default email, with up to 4 email accounts able to be used on each handset. BT's Buckley says "customers will be able to check email as easily as on a laptop". Access will be via a password with users encouraged to protect their handset via a SIM PIN code.
S-Mobile provides an antivirus feature for the phones badged as BT Mobile Security. While this will run in the background, users will be able to manual invoke a scan and choose whether to inspect specific folders such as their email inbox on demand.
At present, around 75 percent of mobile phones are capable of receiving email or browsing the web, but 90 percent of customers don't do so. This contrasts with how quickly consumers have embraced the idea of using email and the web on their laptops.
Usable keyboards were seen as one of the most important criteria for Anywhere customers, with more than 90 percent of the focus groups who trialled the service stating this as a major issue.
The two handsets BT is launching with, the HTC S620 and HTC S710, have one-letter-per-key inputs, with the narrower S710 having a slide-out Qwerty keyboard concealed behind the phone's screen.
Buckley acknowledged that the company is "monitoring" the interest in 3G dongles and mobile internet delivered via USB, but said BT has no immediate plans to offer such an option to consumers.
Buckley points out that, in any case, BT has access to the largest 3G network in the UK via its connection with Vodafone – one of the leading providers of 3G mobile internet.
However, Buckley did say he thought 3G dongle access has a part to play in the broadband landscape and that BT's phone-based offering and other mobile providers' approaches were "not about substitution".
BT Total Broadband Anywhere launches across the UK from today, with a TV campaign to support it airing from Saturday.
BT declined to comment on likely future handset partners although Nokia was cited as a possibility.