Wi-Fi to arrive at UK's railway stations

Railtrack is to try its hand running a different type of network, with a new deal to create 15 Wi-Fi hot spots at some of Britain's busiest stations

Laptop and PDA users will soon be offered wireless high-speed Internet access at 15 of Britain's major railway stations.

Megabeam, a European wireless ISP, said on Monday it has reached agreement with Railtrack -- which currently owns the UK's railway infrastructure -- to install Wi-Fi hot spots based on 802.11b at nine London terminals and six regional stations.

The service will be targeted at business customers who need access to corporate information and the Internet while traveling in the UK. It follows a trial at Paddington station, in which Megabeam worked with Intel to build and test a Wi-Fi hot spot based on 802.11b.

"We have witnessed significant demand from business travellers who need fast, convenient and secure access to their corporate network or Internet," said Ryan Jarvis, chief executive of Megabeam, in a statement. "This agreement with Railtrack reflects our progress in establishing a pan-European infrastructure that supports the business traveller whether they travel by train or plane."

The 15 stations involved in the trial are Waterloo, Kings Cross, Euston, Paddington, Victoria, London Bridge, Liverpool Street, Fenchurch Street, Charing Cross, Gatwick, Birmingham New Street, Manchester Piccadilly, Leeds Central, Glasgow Central and Edinburgh Waverley. According to Railtrack, some 650 million customers use these stations each year.

Megabeam already operates Wi-Fi hot spots at 20 locations throughout Europe, including Rome airport and Milan airport. According to Megabeam, 20 companies have already signed up to its service. Cisco Systems is also setting up hot spots in airports across Europe.

BT has already announced ambitious plans for Wi-Fi in the UK. It is trialling several hot spots ahead of a commercial launch of its BT Openzone service, due in August. By summer 2003 it plans to have built at least 400 hot spots in locations such as hotels, shopping centres and coffee shops.

There has been concern that BT would effectively monopolise the UK's Wi-Fi market, but Megabeam's tie-up with Railtrack indicates that BT could face stiff competition.

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