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BT today opened up its BT Openzone public wireless broadband network to third-party operators with the launch of a wholesale programme.

There's already two interested parties: Orange Business Solutions and Vodafone today separately announced trials that will allow their respective business users to access the Internet from BT Openzone hotspots.

A BT spokesman said it would take time for operators to refine their service packages, so that there will be a period of trial before the launch of fully fledged services early next year. BT declined to discuss the commercial terms of its wholesale programme, instead preferring to offer a general rationale for the scheme.

David Hughes, chief executive, BT Wireless Broadband, said: "Wholesale has always been part of our strategy, it maximises the usage of our network and therefore the return on our investment."

As well as looking for customers among mobile operators, BT is looking to sell access to its Wi-Fi network through ISPs, fixed line operators.

BT Openzone's network, which was launched last year, covers locations at airports, hotels, motorway services, coffee shops and railway stations across the UK. BT said that offering wholesale access to its network will benefit site owners because locations will able to offer Net access to customers of BT's partners, as well as Openzone subscribers.

Last week, the company announced the launch of a scheme to put BT Openzone access points in many of the thousands of payphones across Britain.

BT has set a target of providing 4000 BT Openzone access points by summer 2004. ®

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