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European telcos re-enter mobile market with WLAN

OXFORD, United Kingdom-U.K.-based British Telecommunications has launched three wireless local area network (WLAN) “hot spots” in London to provide personal digital assistant (PDA) and laptop users with high-speed Internet access. The company said it plans to have 20 sites operational by August, 400 by June 2003 and more than 4,000 within three years.

This move by the fixed-line operator is expected to trigger KPN and Deutsche Telekom into rescheduling their WLAN launch plans, although they will need to work with their respective cell-phone business units to avoid any potential business conflicts. BT has little concern in this area having demerged its Cellnet/MmO2 mobile-phone business last year.

BT said the WLAN service will be based on the IEEE 802.11b standard and will require users to buy a subscription to BT Openzone for $143 a month or a pay-as-you-go plan for 0.15 euro a minute. BT Retail Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Pierre Danon said the service would help the company reach its goal of generating at least $45.5 million a year by 2005.

The launch coincides with a new report on public access WLANs from Canadian consultancy TeleAnalytics, which states that most major worldwide mobile carriers have WLAN launch or contingency plans. The report looks at 28 countries and said these new players have triggered a “domino effect, forcing competitors in the same country to also launch WLANs. The company cited Korea and Spain as markets where one carrier’s launched was followed quickly by a competitor.

TeleAnalytics said the most promising deployments are in hotels, with an expected 47,000 WLAN-equipped hotels by 2006.

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