Look out, Starbucks! McDonald's is going Wi-Fi in a global way. British Telecom (BT) has announced that it will install hot spots in over 500 McDonald's restaurants in Britain. Referred to as Openzone service, this venture is all part of BT's wireless expansion plan. Its goal is to deliver 4000 Wi-Fi hot spots by the summer of 2004.
Many of the major telecommunications companies—both in the U.S. and abroad—are rolling out higher-profit-margin broadband services. In this case, BT and McDonald's will split the investment. Both companies will promote the service and share in the revenue.
As with any Wi-Fi hot spot, McDonald's customers will be able to log onto the Internet via their Wi-Fi-enabled laptop, PDA, or cell phone. This access should be possible from a distance of 100 m from the hot spot. In the future, gaming and music-device users also could be loyal customers. Nokia's N-Gage gaming phone, for example, is planning to incorporate Wi-Fi capabilities shortly.
McDonald's has already installed Wi-Fi hot spots in over 400 U.S. cities. Most of these installations have proven to be a boost to business. According to a recent survey of McDonald's U.S. hot spots, they've been shown to attract a higher proportion of educated males. Many of those surveyed indicated that they would not have visited McDonald's if it hadn't offered Wi-Fi. The survey participants also said that they planned to return. To further entice customers, BT will offer two plans: pay-as-you-go and subscription.
The U.K.'s first Wireless Broadband Week attracted additional interest in Wi-Fi hot-spot connectivity. The event ran between January 26 and February 1. It is supported by the Wireless Broadband Alliance (www.wirelessbroadbandalliance.com). This international group aims to expand the industry adoption of Wi-Fi across the globe.
BT's Openzone service provides users with a public-access, wireless-Internet connection. It works with PCs, Macs, PDAs, or any other Wi-Fi-based device with wireless-LAN capability. Laptops that contain an Intel Centrino chip already have embedded WLAN support. Other laptops simply need a PCMCIA WLAN card, such as BT's Voyager card. PDAs require WLAN-enabled Compact Flash cards.
OpenZone provides access speeds of up to 500 kbps (almost 10 times faster than a standard 56K modem). To connect, users must be within range of an Openzone site (approx. 100 m). Zones will be badged with the BT Openzone logo. For more information, please visit the companies' web sites at www.bt.com and www.mcdonalds.com.