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Last Updated: Friday, 17 September, 2004, 10:12 GMT 11:12 UK
Mobiles track down wi-fi hotspots
McDonald's sign, BBC
Some McDonald's fast food outlets offer wi-fi
The best thing about wireless net access, or wi-fi, is that once you find a hotspot, it is so easy to use.

The downside is that finding your nearest hotspot when you are out and about can be tricky. Especially if you are in a city you do not know well.

But help is at hand as a service launches to let people track down the nearest hotspot using a mobile phone.

Users find out where a nearby wi-fi hotspot is simply by sending a text message to a short code.

Site finder

Although the UK has a few thousand wi-fi hotspots, London alone has more than 800, that still means they are spread pretty thinly.

Many places that offer wi-fi do advertise the presence of fast, wireless net access but, unless you know where they are in the first place, they can be hard to find.

But now website Totalhotspots.com has joined up with phone services firm Mobile Commerce to let people consult a directory of hotspots while on the move.

Anyone using the service can find their nearest hotspot by texting the word "hotspot" to the 84140 SMS short code number.

In return they will get data about the name, address and telephone number of the nearest wi-fi locations

Each use of the service incurs a 1 charge.

The system works by noting the location of the mobile phone base station that the text message is being sent from. Multimap is providing the geographic information.

"It's like making a directory enquiries call," said Dan Jelfs, business development director at Mobile Commerce.

Currently the system works only with the UK's GSM networks (Vodafone, Orange, O2 and T-Mobile) with the 3 third-generation network to come later.

Mr Jelfs said the wi-fi finding service was needed because many consumers still did not know how close they were to shops and stores that offer net access.

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