McDonald's signs on for Wi-Fi in San Francisco area, Singapore

The fast-food company is expanding wireless service beyond New York

McDonald's Corp. broadened its push into the Wi-Fi public-access market today, with deals to provide the wireless service in 75 San Francisco Bay area restaurants and 140 outlets in Singapore. In the Bay area, 55 restaurants began offering wireless Internet connectivity today.

The move comes just four months after McDonald's launched a test of public-access Wi-Fi at 10 restaurants in New York, with service provided by Cometa Networks Inc. (see story). Basking Ridge, N.J.-based Cometa is co-owned by AT&T Corp., IBM and Intel Corp.

For its Bay area wireless networks, McDonald's announced that it has tapped Wayport Inc. Austin-based Wayport will provide service based on the 802.11b protocol, which offers 11Mbit/sec. raw throughput.

The Oak Brook, Ill.-based fast-food chain doesn't plan to stop there, saying that it plans to offer Wi-Fi service at "several hundred restaurants" by year's end, expand the number of Wi-Fi locations in New York and offer Wi-Fi access in some of its Chicago-area restaurants. The cost for a two-hour wireless Internet connection at these locations is $4.95, although other options will be available.

Don Thompson, president of McDonald's West Division, said the company decided to offer Wi-Fi service because "today's customer is more time-pressed than ever, and we think it's important to meet the needs of busy professional and family lifestyles by offering services that are easy to use and relevant."

In Singapore, SkyNetGlobal Pte. Ltd., a subsidiary of SkyNetGlobal Ltd. in Sydney, Australia, announced yesterday that it had signed an exclusive agreement to offer Wi-Fi service at 140 Singapore restaurants operated by McDonald's Pte. Ltd., which is owned by McDonald's and Robert Kwan, chairman of McDonald's Singapore.

SkyNetGlobal said its Singapore Wi-Fi network will be built specifically to be handheld device- and smart phone-friendly, offering users low-cost broadband Internet access, telephone calls and a range of high-quality video and gaming content.

The expansion by McDonald's of its Wi-Fi-equipped network mirrors a continuing boom in the Wi-Fi "hot spot" market, with coffee shops, hotels and airports all rolling out the service. The Yankee Group in Boston predicts that there will be slightly more than 12,000 Wi-Fi hot spots in the U.S. by the end of this year and 72,000 by 2007. Worldwide, Gartner Inc. in Stamford, Conn. puts the total number of hot spots at slightly more than 50,000 by year's end and at 151,000 by 2005.

But Chris Kozup, an analyst at Meta Group Inc. in Stamford, Conn., questioned the "long-term viability" of Wi-Fi service at McDonald's restaurants. The average McDonald's offers neither a "calm environment" nor the atmosphere sought out by enterprise customers, Kozup said, adding that McDonald's might have better luck with Wi-Fi service in Singapore, where its restaurants have a "hip" cachet.

Wayport already offers Wi-Fi access at more than 500 hotels and major airports in Dallas, Seattle and Minneapolis and has a variety of pricing plans, including $29.95 per month for unlimited access at all its locations with a one-year contract.

Boingo Wireless Inc., a Wi-Fi service aggregator in Santa Monica, Calif., offers an introductory price of $21.95 per month for unlimited access to more than 1,300 locations -- including those operated by Wayport. After the first year, Boingo charges $39.95 per month for unlimited service.

SkyNetGlobal didn't provide pricing details for its Singapore service.

Copyright © 2003 IDG Communications, Inc.

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