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Chip maker AMD has quietly rolled out a network of Wi-Fi hotspots. The company will formally launch the service next quarter, The Register has learned.

And in a bid to challenge Intel's desire to equate its Centrino brand with wireless networking, AMD will provide wireless access free of charge.

Operating under the AMD Hotspot brand, the programme has already installed several hundred hotspots in locations across the US. The tally is likely to have grown significantly by the time the network is officially launched in the coming months, we understand.

Almost all of the hotspots are located in independent coffee shops, small caf&eactue; chains, bars and restaurants. Though we did spot a Holiday Inn Express hotel in among the list too. That hotbed of US chip industry activity, Austin, Texas, is home to 58 hotspots alone. AMD's hometown, Sunnyvale, California, alas has only one.

The chip maker offers would-be hotspot location owners help "promoting your site to thousands of users... throughout your local market". "Members can receive the benefits of discounts, giveaways and traffic-driving special events", the company says.

Essentially, the programme as a co-marketing deal. The location makes sure the AMD logo is prominently displayed and agrees not to charge users for Internet access. In return, AMD will promote the network and its constituent hotspots.

At this stage, it's not clear if AMD is funding the network's roll-out by paying for Internet connectivity and/or providing equipment. AMD's Personal Connectivity Solutions (PCS) division offers the Alchemy Am1772 802.11b WLAN chipset and the Alchemy Au1500 processor, which is used in a number of Wi-Fi base stations, such as Apple's AirPort Extreme access point. As yet, the company provides no support for the higher speed 802.11g or 802.11a standards.

However, according to company sources, the hotspot roll-out is being driven at a higher level than the PCS operation. A team has been appointed within AMD to seek out and sign new locations, rather than rely on site owners asking for the company's backing.

AMD's move to offer free Wi-Fi comes as a number of budget hotel chains in the US have similarly started to offer gratis wireless Internet access in a bid to compete with higher end hotels for business customers. All 2300 Best Western locations will offer free Net access by September. Marriott's 1200 budget Courtyard, Residence Inn, TownePlace Suites, SpringHill Suites and Fairfield Inns will get free Internet access this year. ®

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