BT to roll out Wi-Fi hot spots across the UK

Coffee shops, stations and airports could soon provide high-speed wireless Internet access as part of BT's new mobile business strategy

Thousands of public places will be turned into wireless broadband hot spots over the next few years as part of BT's move to dominate the mobile data market.

This will give laptop, PDA and mobile phone users high-speed access to the Internet and corporate networks from places such as coffee shops, service stations and airports. BT said on Wednesday that these wireless local area networks (WLANs) will use the 802.11b standard, but will also be able to support Bluetooth and 802.11a in the future.

While 802.11b provides maximum theoretical speeds of 11 megabits per second (mbps), in practice users will only get about half of this. 802.11a is five times faster than 802.11b, and because it operates on a different radio frequency there is less interference with other services.

The first 20 BT WLAN hot spots should launch this June, and BT has said that is in negotiation with high-street café group Costa Coffee. The telco is aiming to have 400 sites up and running within 12 months, and could have built 4,000 sites by the middle of 2005.

"Four hundred sites will give us 30 percent coverage of the key sites where people want to get high-speed wireless access," said David Hughes, director of BT Mobility.

Under current legislation, companies cannot operate commercial public access WLANs, but as ZDNet UK News reported last month, the UK government has been advised to make them legal. BT is banking on this taking place soon, with its June launch date.

"Our service will deliver broadband to public places and will let customers use their laptops and phones to access data without having to plug into a network," Hughes. "We are aiming to let people access the Internet from airports, railway stations, and cafes -- in fact, from anywhere you might pause."

Hughes claimed that BT's WLANs would offer a superior service compared to 3G networks. "Wireless LAN services offer three times the performance of 3G at half the cost," he said. When quizzed about pricing, Hughes suggested that WLAN customers might get unlimited access in return for a fixed fee of perhaps £50 per month.

Networks and networking products have seen huge innovation and growth in the last few years. High bandwidth LANs and Storage Area Networks are now in common use. ZDNet UK's Networking Central keeps you up to date with the latest news and views.

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