BT plans wireless comeback in UK

British Telecom is planning to launch a Mobility Services portfolio of mobile products for UK business customers in June.

British Telecom is planning to launch a Mobility Services portfolio of mobile products for UK business customers in June.

It intends to launch the UK's first public access wireless LAN (WLAN) network, sell WLAN services, and become a virtual mobile-phone operator. All services will, initially, target business customers, the company said.

BT aims to have about 400 WLAN hotspots operating by June 2003, increasing to up to 4,000 sites in mid-2005. The WLAN service will be offered at public sites such as hotels, railway stations, airports and coffee shops. It will allow users to connect to the Internet or their corporate network wirelessly using a laptop computer or another device equipped with a WLAN card. Pricing options will include annual subscriptions and prepaid vouchers, BT said.

The public access WLAN network will use IEEE 802.11b technology, which operates in the 2.4GHz radio spectrum. The UK Radiocommunications Agency is expected to authorise commercial use of that band soon, according to BT.

In the future, BT intends to upgrade the network to the IEEE 802.11a standard, a spokeswoman said. An 802.11a operates in the 5GHz spectrum and allows faster data transmission.

Partners in the WLAN network are Motorola and Cisco. Talks are under way with the Costa Coffee chain, as well as many of the leading retailers and property owners to install hotspots on their premises, BT said.

BT's WLAN aspirations - which it expects to generate extra revenue of at least £30ma year in three years - do not stop at the street. The company will also target its corporate customers for WLAN installations in their offices and will launch a consumer WLAN product before the end of the year, BT said. Product details will come in June.

The company also plans to get back into mobile telephony, following the sale of its mobile-telephony business unit last year.

It will create a mobile-telephony service provider that will operate on the network of mm02, the unit spun off last year. Through this virtual mobile operator, BT will offer customers unified billing for fixed and mobile communications and also sell other mobile devices such as the Blackberry mobile e-mail device.

BT expects this business to bring in about £150m in additional revenue in three years' time.

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