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BT to offer a week's free Wi-Fi access

Wireless Broadband Week to kick off on 26 January

BT Openzone will next month open up its network of Wi-Fi hotspots to businesspeople and consumers in a bid to improve the British public's awareness of wireless networking.

And the telco is expected to make access easier - and possible even less expensive - through a series of pay-as-you-go options due to be launched in the near future.

From Monday, 26 January to Sunday, 1 February 2004 inclusive, anyone who registers with BT Openzone will given seven days' worth of unlimited Internet access, free of charge, in return.

Cynics might point out that a number of Wi-Fi operators already offer free access through extensions of 'trial periods' that have run longer than planned.

Dubbed 'Wireless Broadband Week' by the telco, the free access offer will be backed a million pound promotional campaign to spread the word of Wi-Fi among computer and PDA users, Steve Andrews, BT Retail MD told The Register.

"People who try wireless Internet access never want to go back [to dial up]," he said. "We want to give more people that same experience. We want to show how simple and secure it can be [to connect wirelessly]."

He declined to provide specific details of the education programme the company has planned, but he said it will extend to Britain's High Streets and will be "very visible". We're very definitely targeting consumers as well as the classic Wi-Fi audience, businesses, he said.

We hope he can avoid such spurious examples of Wi-Fi communications as explorers accessing the Internet halfway up a mountain under blizzard conditions, as certain other, less Intelligent WLAN advertising campaigns have suggested.

That said, he also cited the "pull of laptop advertising" as one of the drivers for the take-up of Wi-Fi access in the UK. As an example of which, he cited a 300 per cent increase in the number of minutes of activity on the BT Openzone network over the past three months.

Andrews also called upon other members of the Wi-Fi provider community to join BT in its efforts to back Wireless Broadband Week.

BT Openzone currently operates at some 1700 locations, and expects to have raised that figure to over 4000 by next summer. Such growth is likely to be highlighted in Wireless Broadband Week, as the telco strives to convince punters that Wi-Fi access is widely available.

It will also need to convince people that it isn't as expensive as a £6 ($10.37) an hour voucher suggests. Andrews wouldn't comment on what level of pricing the upcoming pay-as-you-go tariffs will provide, or whether they will be open-ended. Currently, vouchers must be used in one go, whether you need the full hour or not.

The pay-as-you-go cards may be launched in association with Openzone partner Wi-Fi directory Hotspot Hotel, which is understood to be preparing a range of pay-as-you-go cards that cover mobile phones and international calls as well as Wi-Fi access.

Andrews did say the company was committed to offering a range of payment options alongside its existing vouchers and mobile phone airtime package-style subscriptions, which start at £10 ($17.28) a month for 120 minutes' access. ®

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