BT kicks off commercial Wi-Fi network

BT has hit its target of letting customers pay to use its Wi-Fi hot spots from 1 August, but at up to £85 per month BT Openzone could be too pricey for many

BT has launched BT Openzone -- its Wi-Fi service that gives laptop and PDA users high-speed wireless Internet access in selected locations.

As ZDNet UK reported, BT announced back in April that it was planning to set up high-speed wireless LANs across the UK that could be accessed by the public. Such Wi-Fi hot spots have been popular in America for some time, but it has only just become legal to offer such commercial services in the UK.

BT has been trialling BT Openzone, which currently consists of 20 hot spots, since June. As planned, it began the commercial launch of the service on 1 August, and is targeting business users, although individuals will also be able to sign up.

"The trial period finished on 31 July," a BT spokeswoman told ZDNet UK. "The government only recently changed the law to make commercial Wi-Fi services legal, so 1 August was the first day that the commercial launch could take place," she added.

E-commerce minister Stephen Timms announced back in June that the government would lift the restrictions that prevented companies offering commercial wireless services in the 2.4GHz range of the radiocommunication spectrum.

A range of different payment models are available. Subscribers can pay £85 per month for unlimited access, £40 per month for 900 minutes Wi-Fi surfing per month, or £20 for 300 minutes. Anyone who signs up before 31 December will get a 50 percent discount.

Two pre-pay schemes are also available. For £6, users can get a one-hour pass that allows 60 minutes of Wi-Fi access within 24 hours of the first log-in. Unlimited access within a 24 hour period will cost £15.

Some commentators have complained that BT's pricing is too expensive, especially as a subscription to BT Openzone would not give access to a rival Wi-Fi network being implemented at the UK's largest railway stations by Megabeam.

Several of BT Openzone's 20 hot spots are in London, at locations such as Earls Court and Olympia, the Bluewater shopping centre, Hilton hotels at Heathrow, Islington, Kensington and Tower Thistle, and the Euston Travel Inn.

Other hot spots include the Maidstone and Sandback RoadChefs, the Moto Services at Heston and the Jarvis Royal Berkshire hotel at Ascott. The remaining hot spots are located at offices belonging to BT, including at its Adastral Park reseach centre in Suffolk, and at the offices of Cisco and Motorola.

"Motorola and Cisco helped BT to build its Wi-Fi network, and they are also acting as pilot customers," said the BT spokeswoman, adding that around 100 Motorola employees are subscribed to BT Openzone.

BT is aiming to have 70 Wi-Fi hot spots in place by the end of 2002, and 400 by next summer.

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