BT hints at cheaper Wi-Fi prices

Prices for unlimited access to BT Openzone are likely to drop from the current £85 a month level as the service becomes more popular

BT is likely to cut the cost of using its Wi-Fi hot spots once the technology proves popular with the public, according to a senior executive at the company.

Speaking at a seminar at the Enterprise Wireless Technology show in London on Wednesday, BT director of mobile services David Hughes said the prices charged by BT Openzone would drop as the company signs up more users and builds more Wi-Fi hot spots.

"Stuff will happen to pricing as we scale upwards in size and our user numbers go up," said Hughes. "Our pricing has been carefully positioned, but yes, it's in the upper quartile," he added.

Unlimited access to BT Openzone, which launched in August this year, costs £85 per month, with 600 minutes of access costing £40 per month, and 300 minutes of access costing £20 per month. Some in the industry have claimed that such prices are simply too high for most consumers.

A price cut does not appear to be just around the corner, but Hughes pointed out that such a reduction would be consistent with the track record of other technologies. "Take mobile, for example. It was pretty expensive at the start, but it scaled upwards and now it's totally a commodity item," said Hughes.

BT Openzone currently has some 22 hot spots up and running, and is aiming for 400 by next August. Openzone subscribers can get high-speed wireless Internet access at these hot spots, which allows them to send email, surf, or access corporate applications.

The UK government only legalised commercial Wi-Fi hot spots earlier this year, and there are thought to be just 41,000 Wi-Fi hot spot users worldwide. But Intel is predicting that the technology will take off very soon.

Andrew Allison, UK business development manager at Intel, told the seminar that around one million laptops based on Intel's Banias chip -- which supports Wi-Fi networking -- should ship in the UK in 2003. "That's an extra one million compatible devices coming into the market," said Allison.

He also believes that prices should fall soon.

"There are two things that drive price cuts, the ubiquity of hot spots and the ubiquity of users. We should see a step change in both those factors next year," predicted Allison.

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