TEL AVIV (Reuters) - Bezeq Israel Telecom has launched Israel's first free public WiFi service as the country's largest telecoms group seeks to maintain its leadership amid increasing competition.
Customers agreeing to securely share a small part of their home Internet bandwidth will have free WiFi access when using smartphones, tablets and laptops at potentially hundreds of thousands of hot spots across the country.
Bezeq said 30 percent of telecom operators globally - such as Verizon, China Telecom, Bouygues and British Telecom with its Fon service - offer access to hot spots as part of their communications packages and this is expected to exceed 50 percent by the end of 2012.
Bezeq is the market leader in Internet service in Israel, serving over 850,000 WiFi customers.
"This will enable our customers to receive a lot more for the same price," Bezeq CEO Avi Gabbay told a news conference on Tuesday. "Customers can share their routers and create a network that will be with them everywhere."
To ensure security Bezeq said it will operate the public and private services separately. Bezeq also set up collaborations with large national retailers such as Pizza Hut.
The company is investing millions of shekels in the service though officials would not provide more details.
"We hope to reach hundreds of thousands (of customers) within a few years. The potential is very high," said Ran Guron, deputy CEO and vice president of marketing.
The new service will help strengthen Bezeq's Internet service, which faces growing competition from cable TV provider HOT as well as mobile phone operators.
The introduction of smartphones has led to a big jump in WiFi usage and cellular companies, facing difficulties in meeting surging demand for data over 3G networks, are seeking to offload some of that usage to other networks, Guron noted.
"We believe innovation leads to loyalty from customers and as market leaders we feel we need to be innovative," he said. (Reporting by Tova Cohen; Editing by Steven Scheer)