British Telecommunications (BT) began free public trials of its public wireless LAN (WLAN) service, BT Openzone, on June 24, as it prepared for the August 1 launch.

Earl's Court Olympia conference centre in London and the Heathrow Hilton Hotel at Heathrow Airport became the first site partners last week. The service utilizes the same communication standard as employed by Apple in its AirPort product.

One hundred employees of Motorola's UK division will be early users of the service, which the company is helping BT set up.

Worldwide roll-out Hilton Hospitality spokesman Chris McHall said: “We are very, very excited about the Wi-Fi service. It is absolutely fantastic and is going to change business travel.”

Hilton currently owns 499 hotels worldwide and plans to expand the WLAN service, which uses the Wi-Fi or IEEE 802.11b protocol, to all of its airport hotels as soon as it can, McHall said.

“We will begin charging for the service on August 1, and will move quickly to bring the service first to our airport hotels and then to our other hotels,” he said.

BT plans to have 400 wireless LAN access points in operation in places such as airports, hotels, conference centres, railroad stations and coffee shops by June 2003. For the August 1 launch, 20 access points are expected to be available, with 70 open by December, the BT spokeswoman said.

The service will cost around £95 per month for a fixed number of hours of use, or on a per-minute basis for about £0.10 per minute, BT said. To encourage early adoption, BT is promising a 50 per cent discount for monthly users signing up before the end of the year. BT would not say how many hours users will get for their monthly fee.

BT said that the service will generate annual revenue of at least £30 million by the end of 2005.