BT will launch its WiFi (wireless LAN network) public data service on August 1, reports Dow Jones. The company is in discussion with mobile operators to develop joint products.

The service is set to run in 20 hot spots on launch, with 70 areas supported by the end of the year. It’s likely to appear as a business service initially.

Business users will be able to access the Internet using their laptops when in supported areas. The service will cost £95 (excluding VAT) per month (for unlimited usage); it will also be available on a 10p-per-minute basis. The company hopes to generate £30 million per year by 2005.

The WLAN service will be offered at public sites, including: hotels, railway stations, airports, and coffee shops. BT plans to service 400 coffee shops, retail and business premises by June 2003, building up to 4,000 sites in mid-2005.

The service utilizes 802.11b – or WiFi – the same protocol currently supported by Apple in its AirPort products.

Rules BT’s plans were first announced April. At that time, the UK Radiocommunications Agency had not yet relaxed the rules governing public networks.

The announcement of a launch date follows recent legislative moves by the UK and French authorities to relax the rules governing the radio frequency band employed by WiFi. Both governments are now allowing vendors to create public wireless hot spots.

In the future, BT will upgrade the initial network to the faster IEEE 802.11a standard. 802.11a operates in the 5GHz spectrum, and allows faster data transmission.