IBN plans 3,000 Wi-Fi hotspots in U.K. pubs this year

Inspired Broadcast Networks (IBN), a joint venture between wireless service provider Inspired Technology Ltd. and game machine supplier Leisure Link Holdings Ltd., announced on Thursday plans to build a nation-wide high-speed wireless Internet network connecting 3,000 U.K. pubs by the end of 2003.

In a first step, the network, which is called The Cloud and which IBN claims will be the biggest Wi-Fi network of its kind in Europe, will cover 250 locations by the end of April, the company said in a statement. IBN will offer free trial services in these locations.

Beginning in July, the company aims to offer commercial service at 1,000 locations, with 3,000 to go online by the end of the year.

The Wi-Fi network will leverage the national network of broadband connected games terminals operated by Inspired Technology in co-operation with Leisure Link, which manages 90,000 game machines in 30,000 locations in the U.K., according to the statement.

“Pubs, especially in the afternoons, tend to be quiet places where many business people come to work or have meetings over lunch,” said George Polk, managing director of The Could service. “And a lot of these people come with their notebook computers.”

For future expansion, IBN will look at other sites with coin-operated entertainment and game machines in the Leisure Link group, Polk said.

For the most part, IBN intends to sell capacity on its wireless LAN (WLAN) network to companies offering high-speed wireless Internet access to consumers, according to Polk. “Our principal business is wholesale,” he said. “We will offer capacity to carriers, systems integrators and other well-branded companies that want to sell high-speed wireless Internet access to their customers.”

One of IBN’s first customers is British Telecommunications PLC (BT), which aims to expand the coverage of its BT Openzone wireless service through The Cloud network, Polk said, adding that the service will support roaming between hotspots within the IBN network and networks of its customers.

In addition, IBN plans to sell directly to customers. “The entertainment machines in the pubs are equipped to accept money and print vouchers,” Polk said. “So we plan to use these machines to sell service directly to customers on a pay-as-you-go basis.”

Polk declined to provide prices, saying only that they would have to be as attractive as offers already available on the market.

Telefonaktiebolaget LM Ericsson of Sweden and Intel Corp. of the U.S. have been selected to supply technology, according to the statement.

On Thursday Ericsson announced a contract to supply IBN with WLAN base stations, based on the 802.11b standard, and digital subscriber line (DSL) modems for an additional 2,000 hotspots, the company said in a statement. “This contract will bump up the number of hotspots in the IBN network to 5,000,” said Ericsson spokesman Mats Thor

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