T-Mobile engages BT in Wi-Fi dogfight

Mobile workers will have a choice of Wi-Fi networks the next time they're waiting for their flight at some of the UK's largest airports

T-Mobile has become the latest Wi-Fi operator to offer network access at some of the UK's major airports, a move that turns the departure lounge into an important battle ground for the emerging UK Wi-Fi market.

The company has installed hot spots at the international departure lounges of Heathrow Terminals 3 and 4, and Gatwick and Glasgow airports, through a deal with airport owner BAA. T-Mobile says this will give them access to 100 million travellers, and hinted that the move is part of a wider mobile strategy that will also involve 3G.

"We are building a multi-speed network for a multi-media world, which will integrate 2G, 3G and Wi-Fi. Our new Wi-Fi hot spot covering prime BAA airports brings us a step closer to our goal, and allows business travellers to maximise downtime while on the move," said Brian McBride, managing director of T-Mobile UK.

The deal puts T-Mobile head-to-head with BT Openzone, which already operates hot spots at Heathrow and Gatwick and is in the process of installing networks in 80 British Airways executive lounges worldwide.

A smaller operator, UK Explorer, launched a hot spot at Birmingham airport in September 2002, and has now also rolled its service out at Bradford and Edinburgh airports.

T-Mobile is keeping quiet about whether it is planning to launch hot spots at any other UK airports. A T-Mobile spokesman said that the company is still "continuing to develop its network" with a view to integrating 3G and Wi-Fi into a single package.

"Users won't need to be aware which platform they're using. They'll just move seamlessly between the technologies," said the T-Mobile spokesman.