BT will launch public WLAN network on Aug. 1

British Telecommunications PLC (BT) began free public trials of a public wireless LAN (WLAN) service, BT Openzone, on June 24, in preparation for an Aug. 1 launch.

Earl’s Court Olympia conference centre in London and the Heathrow Hilton Hotel at Heathrow Airport became the first site partners last week.

One hundred employees of Motorola Inc.’s U.K. division will be early users of the service, which the company is helping BT set up, a BT spokeswoman said on Thursday.

One of the network hosts was enthusiastic about the potential of the technology.

“We are very, very excited about the Wi-Fi service. It is absolutely fantastic and is going to change business travel,” said Hilton Hospitality Inc. spokesman Chris McHall.

Hilton currently owns 499 hotels worldwide and plans to expand the WLAN service, which uses the Wi-Fi or IEEE 802.11b protocol, to all of its airport hotels as soon as it can, McHall said.

“We will begin charging for the service on Aug. 1 and will move quickly to bring the service first to our airport hotels and then to our other hotels,” he said.

McHall said he did not know how many people were using the free service to wirelessly hook their laptops up to the Internet or how those users are finding the experience. “BT is in charge of the trials and we’ll be briefed just before Aug. 1 on how the trials went,” McHall said.

As for Motorola, it is still in the process of setting up the system with BT and Cisco Systems Inc., and its 100 employees have yet to begin using the service, said Motorola spokesman Patrick Hamilton.

BT plans to have 400 wireless LAN access points in operation in places such as airports, hotels, conference centres, railroad stations and coffee shops by June 2003. For the Aug. 1 launch, 20 access points are expected to be available, with 70 open by December, the BT spokeswoman said.

The service will cost around