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Café owners and publicans can offer Wi-Fi access free of charge, courtesy of the European launch of FREESPOT.

FREESPOT's first European location is the Kingsway Hall Hotel in Covent Garden, London. Punters will be able to get Internet access from the bar and lounge area of the Kingsway Hall Hotel free of charge. The network uses via wireless LAN technology from Buffalo Technologies.

Craig Reid, technical sales engineer at Buffalo, explained the business model behind the scheme.

"We believe you can get people into a business who wouldn't normally come by offering free WiFi access. Buffalo makes money from selling the equipment to do this," he said.

FREESPOT equipment differs from vanilla 802.11b technology in three important respects. There's pop-up technology so users are greeted with an advert of the day when they first log on and a 'privacy seperator' in access equipment prevents consumers sharing their hard disk contents. Last, there's a timed access facility so WiFi access is only available when a business is trading.

FREESPOT is a product from Melco Inc. the parent company of Buffalo Technology UK. The service is already up and running in 500 locations in Japan.

Immediate plans relolve around setting up 10-15 reference sites in the UK and pushing the business model out to Nordic and Italy and Spai.

Longer term there are plans to introduce faster 802.11g technology into new locations and to expand FREESPOT to the US, selling it as a marketing tool to coffee chains competing with Starbucks, for example. ®

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