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Australian telco Telstra wants to offer blanket Wi-Fi coverage in the nation's business zones by installing WLAN kit in its 33,000 public payphones.

This month, the company will test out the technology and the public's demand for wireless Internet access by adding Wi-Fi base-stations to 15 payphones, Tibor Schwartz, head of the telco's wireless and mobility division, revealed during an interview with The Australian newspaper.

The trial will take place in Central Business Districts across Australia. While the payphones themselves are increasingly standing idle, thanks to growing mobile phone usage, they nevertheless allow Telstra to leverage its network for public high-speed data services.

Essentially, Telstra wants to recoup the payphone revenue lost to mobile voice calls by selling wireless Internet access.

If the trial goes well, it could result in a wider roll-out to turn CBDs into Wi-Fi zones.

In the UK, The Cloud has been slowly rolling out payphone-based access points since September 2003 when it signed a deal with payphone company NWP Spectrum, which operates over 10,000 kiosks across the British Isles.

Telstra currently operates some 116 hotspots, mostly in top-end hotels, Qantas airport lounges and McDonald's burger joints. But according Schwartz, it plans to take the total to up to 2000 by the end of 2005.

"We are progressing that rollout during 2004 and 2005," he said. "We will be announcing more strategic location partners." ®

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