British telecoms operator BT Group Plc
officially fired up its first wireless local area network (WLAN) “hot spot” at Heathrow Airport
on Monday, offering high-speed Internet access to nearby laptop users.
The trial of the new BT Openzone service at the London airport Hilton comes in advance of the August 1 launch, when companies will pay 95 pounds ($143) a month for one employee to get unlimited Internet access in the 100-metre-radius zones. Crucially, WLAN traffic runs on fixed-line networks, not mobile.
BT joins a growing list of European fixed-line players following U.S. footsteps into WLAN, which delivers data at 20 times the speed of mobile phones. Wireless firms worry it may take revenue from their own costly next generation services, but optimists say the two technologies will be complementary.
BT`s service is aimed largely at the corporate sector, and it has signed up Hilton Hotels HLT.N as a partner along with Bluewater shopping centre in southern England and Earl`s Court Olympia convention centre in London. Hotels chain Travel Inn WTB.L may also sign up, BT said.
BT would not disclose the terms of the partnerships, but Britain`s dominant fixed-line operator hopes to generate at least 30 million pounds in extra annual revenue by 2005.
While not a major money spinner on its own, BT hopes clients will be attracted by a bundled telecoms service that includes landline calls to the office, mobile phone services arranged through former BT subsidiary mmO2 OOM.L , as well as WLAN.
“BT Openzone gives our customers greater flexibility and control and enables their employees to work effectively wherever they are,” said Mike Langston, managing director of BT Retail Prodcuts and Enterprises.
Only BT and U.S. wireless technology firm Motorola MOT.N , which is building the WLAN network along with equipment maker Cisco Systems CSCO.O , have signed up so far. But Langston noted the UK government had only given approval two weeks ago.
The company eventually plans to sell WLAN into the consumer market as well, by offering access by the hour or day. It hopes to have 70 “hot spots” built by the end of the year, and 4,000 in Britain`s cafes, roadside service areas and airports by 2005.