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Last Updated:  Thursday, 27 February, 2003, 17:02 GMT
Net cafes take on wi-fi rivals
Internet Exchange
Internet Exchange has 32 branches
A chain of UK internet cafes is trying to undercut its rivals by offering low-cost wireless net access at its branches.

Internet Exchange has set up wi-fi hotspots at 30 of its outlets so that any customer with a suitable wireless card in their laptop can hook up to the net without wires.

The company said the cost of a connection will be up to a quarter of the cost of rival BT.

However, some cafes like Starbucks and Benugo already provide free wi-fi access to customers at some branches.

Net cafes changing

This is the first time Internet Exchange, which has 32 net cafes in the UK and 150 affiliates across Europe, has moved into wireless.

Internet Exchange: 5 for 24 hours
BT: 15 for 24 hours
Megabeam: 20 for 24 hours
Its wi-fi networks will be based on the industry standard, 802.11b and trained staff will be available to help anyone having trouble connecting.

Charges start at 5 for 24 hours unlimited use, compared to the 15 charged by BT for the same time.

"We recognise that the typical internet store is changing, that customers will increasingly want to access the web remotely from their own computers, and that wi-fi is the technology that will enable them to do that," said James Farquharson, CEO of Internet Exchange.

There are 17 Internet Exchange wireless branches in London.

The others are in Bristol, Southampton, Cardiff, Cambridge, Birmingham, Leeds, Manchester, Newcastle and York.

Virtually free

Wireless hotspots have become popular in towns and cities across the UK, allowing people to connect to the net via their laptops in hotels, airports and cafes.

At the moment BT is leading the pack with a series of hotspot launches around the UK.

It plans to have 4,000 hotspots across the UK by the summer of 2005.

Some cafes like Starbucks and Benugo in London have begun offering virtually free wireless access.

In exchange for the price of a cappuccino or a sandwich, customers can log on and surf the web or check their e-mail.

Analysts expect wi-fi services to explode, with sales of the wireless cards needed to hook up to the network growing worldwide from 6.5 million in 2001 to 31.2 million by 2006.

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