BT plans wireless comeback in UK

BT Group PLC (BT), the U.K.’s biggest phone company, is planning to launch a Mobility Services portfolio of mobile products for U.K. business customers in June.

It plans to launch the U.K.’s first public access wireless LAN (WLAN) network, sell WLAN services, and become a virtual mobile-phone operator. All services are initially targeted at business customers, BT of London said in a statement Wednesday.

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, to be offered at public sites such as hotels, railway stations, airports and coffee shops, will allow users to wirelessly connect to the Internet or their corporate network 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, according to BT. Before the service can launch, the U.K. Radiocommunications Agency has to clear commercial use of that band, BT said. The agency is busy reviewing comments it received in a consultation period and will likely change the regulations, said a spokesman.

“It is anticipated that we will change the regulations to allow public access WLAN. We are going as quickly as we can, but it will probably be a couple of months before we have any changes in place,” he said, noting that June 2003 is “sufficient time to change regulations.”

In the future, BT intends to upgrade the network to the IEEE 802.11a standard, a spokeswoman said. 802.11a operates in the 5GHz spectrum and allows faster data transmission. The move to 802.11a would require another change in regulations, said the Radiocommunications Agency spokesman.

“We ran a separate consultation on 5GHz and that is now closed. There are some issues to be worked out for the 5GHz band,” he said. These issues include the current lack of 802.11a hardware and European support for the standard, he said.

Partners in the WLAN network are Motorola Inc. and Cisco Systems Inc. Talks are under way with Costa Coffee, a large coffee shop 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

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