Zennstrom and Paddington: free WiFi as long as you're talking

by Guy Kewney | posted on 03 March 2005

Paddington Station; and there is a WiFi hotspot. No, it's not Starbucks (they are there, but only in the background) it's ReadytoSurf, from Broadreach, which has struck a "free talk"  deal with Skype. Yes, it's free, and no, you don't pay them money.

Guy Kewney

The deal really is that if you switch on your skype client - on any electronic device - the Paddington Station WiFi hotspot will log you on, automatically. You don't need to be a Broadreach customer, or have a voucher; you just sit down, and talk. Or even, just send text messages.

It works anywhere in Paddington station. Actually, it works with any Broadreach hotspot, including trains.

To test it, we took Skype founder Niklas Zennström (and his  iMate PDA/phone) to visit Paddington Bear, who sits on the station forecourt  on London's second businest rail terminus - and he logged in to Skype, and we followed suit.

All the user has to do is switch on the notebook or PDA with Skype running, and wait till the Skype window shows the list of contacts. Your reporter added in Niklas  to thelist of contacts - and his iMate pinged to acknowledge contact.

"The idea that you'd sit down at a hot-spot and spend five pounds or more on a broadband fee just to chat for free for twenty minutes is crazy," said Zennström. "But if you can sit down and talk for free, maybe you'll want to log onto the Internet at the same time?"

Of course, at the end of the interview, when I wanted to post this story, I  had to log into the ReadyToSurf hotspot, and part with cash. But if all I want to do is talk or text, then no money changes hands.

"It's a win-win-win deal," said Zennström to the bear.

What he means is that the user benefits, Skype benefits, and Broadreach benefits.

"What we are doing today is in line with what we were talking about when we announced our deal with iMate. Part of what we want to do  is make Skype more available. The growth on computers, however... it's just part. For Skype to be really useful for end-users, you have to be able to use it when you are out, and in more and more places. Combination of WiFi and Skype is a good synergy; make free wireless calls."

Doesn't this actually cost Broadreach real money? "No, because we assume that if you pull out your device to make a free Skype call, you may go the next step, and spend money with us," said McEwen-King, ceo of Broadreach.

The service in the Mad Bishop  And Bear pub above the station (WiFi and skype) is excellent. I parked myself in the corner (I happen to know there's a power socket there!) and logged on. And if McEwen-King had given me a valid voucher, it would have been instant - but it's only a pound for a new one, and membership is cheap, too.

The catch: don't log onto ReadytoSurf until you've finished all your calls. When you start using the real internet, a timer counts down; when your money runs out you


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