McDonald's UK to offer side of Wi-Fi with burgers

LONDON (01/07/2004) - British Telecommunications PLC (BT) is expanding its network of public Wi-Fi sites across the U.K. with access points in 500 McDonald's Corp. restaurants, it said Wednesday.

By the time the rollout is completed at the end of March, BT will have 2,200 Openzone access sites across the country.

The McDonald's sites will mainly be at the company's drive-thru restaurants, in addition to its flagship locations in London. Drive-thru restaurant customers tend to park nearby to eat their food, and will be able to access the Openzone service on their laptop or PDA (personal digital assistant) if they are within 100 meters of the site, BT spokesman John Carter said Wednesday.

The Openzone service costs from £10 (US$18.22) a month for 120 minutes of access on a subscription basis, or £0.20 per minute on a pay-as-you-go system, at any Openzone site. These include Costa coffee shops (owned by Whitbread PLC), Hilton Hospitality Inc. hotels, Welcome Break Group Ltd. motorway service stations and BAA Ltd. airports. Users can also buy £6 vouchers at each site, giving one hour's access.

Hotels have the highest Openzone use, Carter said, although he did not have details of how long users spend online in different locations.

BT isn't the only wireless access provider looking to expand its public sites in the U.K. Starbucks Corp.'s coffee shops began a rollout of Wi-Fi access, through T-Mobile International AG, in the U.K. last February after performing successful trials in six locations.

The service is very popular, according to one employee at a small London outlet. "We just got it two weeks ago, and it was a relief, because we had been having to send customers to a bigger outlet at Leicester Square," the Starbucks employee, who asked not to be named, said Wednesday. The most popular times for people using the service are the early mornings and evenings, he said.

McDonald's U.K. was not immediately available to comment on how long the average customer spends in a restaurant or parked in the vicinity.

The McDonald's rollout will be too late for BT's planned promotional week, Wireless Broadband Week, however, which starts on Jan. 26. During the week, BT will offer free access, with no time limit, through its access points.

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