New Wi-Fi network undercuts rivals

A "managed" Wi-Fi service for £20 per month is cheaper than the likes of BT, but will users choose free hot spots instead?

Another Wi-Fi operator has launched in the UK, offering a "managed service" at prices significantly lower than those of BT and Megabeam, Britain's leading commercial Wi-Fi operators.

Internet Exchange, which runs 32 Internet cafes in the UK, announced on Thursday that it has set up Wi-Fi hot spots at 30 of its outlets. Based on 802.11b, these networks will allow high-speed wireless surfing, and Internet Exchange says that trained staff will be on hand to help users get connected.

"Internet Exchange is the only UK Wireless provider to have trained staff at all Wi-Fi hot spots to offer help and support to those using wireless technology for the first time," said the company in a statement. "This enables Internet Exchange to build up a unique rapport with consumers, making their stores highly attractive to advertisers and companies wishing to showcase products and services," it added.

The company also claimed that its pricing was "up to a quarter of the cost of BT".

A 24-hour subscription to Internet Exchange's service will cost £5. One month's unlimited access costs £20 if the user signs up for a 12-month contract, or £30 per month on direct debit - which can be cancelled without penalty. One month's access "off the shelf" is £40.

In contrast, a 24-hour subscription to BT Openzone costs £15 and a one month unlimited subscription costs £85 -- or £42.50 if bought before 31 March 2003.

Megabeam charges around £20 for 24-hour access to its pan-European Wi-Fi network, and £78 for one month's access -- or £59 if bought before 31 March 2003.

However, it isn't necessary to pay for Wi-Fi access. Both Starbucks and Benugo provide free Wi-Fi access to customers at selected stores in the UK -- and some commentators believe this "virtually free" model spells danger to commercial Wi-Fi operators.

Click here to see a map of the UK's Wi-Fi hot spots.

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