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BT says its Wi-Fi kibbutz isn't targeting 3G

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BT has played down suggestions its new Wi-Fi sharing initiative is designed to compete with 3G mobile broadband in future. It will bid to improve coverage by opening the network to other ISPs' customers, however.

The telco launched a bid with Spanish start-up FON yesterday to persuade its two million Home Hub router owners to join a wireless bandwidth-sharing community. FON makes money by selling access to non-members worldwide.

BT's retail internet services director John Hurry said the project would be targeting "hundreds of thousands" of UK members in a year's time. Coverage targets have not been made public.

FON's operations chief Deigo Cabezudo said his firm is developing software for seamless handover between routers that will make mobile VoIP calls on the BT FON network more reliable.

BT Openzone general manager Chris Bruce played down the network's potential as a mobile competitor. He said: "It's a portable rather than a mobile solution. It's about what's possible now - Wi-Fi is here today." He reiterated BT's stance that it will address its agnostic WiMAX policy when spectrum becomes available.

Openzone is pressing ahead with its 12 Wireless Cities plan, which aims to provide seamless Wi-Fi in urban centres to BT FON members. Bruce blamed the failure of municipal wireless in the US on providers' reliance on a single revenue stream. He said BT's relationships with local councils and multiple sources of income from the installations would ensure the project's stability.

The deal between BT and FON is exclusive and indefinite. However, Hurry said other ISPs customers would be welcome to join the community and use Openzone hotspots in the near future if they buy a special router able to provide other Foneros with secure access.

Cabezudo said the BT Fonera router for non-BT customers will probably be available "by the end of the year". It could cause some interesting legal friction.

The first wave of Total Broadband customer sign-ups, being taken now at btfon.com, will have their Home Hub firmware updated on Monday, BT said. ®

Bootnote

Spotted: Niklas Zennstrom and Janus Friis, fresh from jumping the Skype ship, at the launch party for BT FON last night. Why would BT want to schmooze two men who have done more to drive down its voice revenues than most, and are now behind a competitor to BT's Vision IPTV service in Joost? Just asking.

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