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Starbucks brings public-access Wi-Fi to UK

Starbucks plans to introduce its public-access Wi-Fi act to Europe and will expand its wireless Lan service in the UK this year.

Ann Saunders, vice-president of the company's Starbucks Interactive unit, said Starbucks was hoping to move into the Asian market for Wi-Fi - especially in Japan, where the company operates 400 outlets.

The company offers public-access Wi-Fi service at 2,000 North American coffee shops on a per-session or subscription basis and operates a total of 800 coffee shops outside of North America. In the UK, there are already five Starbucks shops offering WiFi access in London and one in Birmingham.

Starbucks will use T-Mobile International as its Wi-Fi network partner in Europe, just as it does in the US, Saunders said.

BT has detailed its rollout of public-access Wi-Fi services last month in heavily trafficked locations such as airports, hotels, service station restaurants and coffee shops run by Costa Coffee. BT has also signed up a number of enterprise customers for a trial of its service, including the BBC, divisions of General Electric Capital and Microsoft.

Despite the head start by BT, Gartner analyst Ken Dulaney said he believed Starbucks would face little competition in the UK. Public-access Wi-Fi services are location-based, and "Starbucks owns the real estate", he said.

Installation of the Wi-Fi equipment, provided by Hewlett-Packard, is relatively easy, Saunders said. But training about 50,000 store employees on Wi-Fi technology was more difficult.

The public-access Wi-Fi market has boomed since Starbucks announced its public-access plans in 2001, with well-financed partners including Cometa Networks.


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