T-Mobile Fuels Texaco Stations with Wi-Fi

T-Mobile's hot-spot service is now available at more than 100 Texaco service stations in the United Kingdom.

T-Mobile has switched on Wi-Fi hot spots at more than 100 Texaco service stations along major roads in the United Kingdom, the company said on Wednesday.

The Texaco stations are the latest additions to T-Mobile HotSpots international network of several thousand hot spots. The mobile phone carrier bundles Wi-Fi access with GPRS (General Packet Radio Service) and 3G services, a strategy that analysts say is already paying off.

Cell phone companies, land-line networks and third parties are rushing to set up Wi-Fi hot spots. There were more than 40,000 hot spots around the world last year, according to In-Stat/MDR. Usage has not kept pace so far, though that is expected to change this year.

The Wi-Fi links were installed by specialist Mapesbury Communications Ltd. under a deal announced in September. Texaco, with 1,400 branded stations around the United Kingdom, has an exclusive arrangement with T-Mobile HotSpot.

/zimages/6/28571.gifThe U.K. government is planning to upgrade its roadside telematics system with a wireless network designed to blanket the country with low-cost wireless Internet access. Click here to read more.

Texaco said it sees the Wi-Fi service as a significant customer draw and has outfitted all participating stations with Wi-Fi signage and a designated parking space for wireless users, much like the designated spaces for station air pumps. The parking spots serve a safety purpose as well, steering users away from gas pumps, Texaco pointed out.

The draw of Wi-Fi for business travelers could be a significant boon to Texacos bottom line, the company said. "There are between three and five million business travelers on British roads every day who could potentially benefit from this service," said Peter Oakford, Texacos general manager of European marketing support, in a statement.

A T-Mobile spokesman told eWEEK.com that the network is expected to expand to several hundred Texaco stations by the end of the year. The carrier already offers Wi-Fi access in hotels and coffee shops in the United Kingdom. Recently, it more than doubled the number of its Starbucks hot spots to 154; thats on top of a large network of U.S. Starbucks locations. In February, T-Mobile announced a roaming agreement with AT&T for the Denver, Philadelphia and San Francisco airports.

T-Mobiles early investment in Wi-Fi networks is paying off in attracting business users and reducing churn, according to a report published earlier this month by Pyramid Research. "The bundling of Wi-Fi and cellular is driving business users to T-Mobile and away from competitive carriers," Pyramid said in the report. "Churn reduction alone will more than justify the operators investment in Wi-Fi."

In Europe, T-Mobile recently added 3G to its bundled solutions, with a business offering combining unlimited GPRS, WCDMA (wideband code division multiple access) and Wi-Fi for a single monthly fee.

So far, users have not flocked to Wi-Fi hot spots, whether subscription-based or free, according to industry observers. An In-Stat/MDR survey found that in 2003, more than half of business users had used a public wired or wireless network, but the majority had done so less than six times a year. Gartner estimated global Wi-Fi users at 9.3 million last year.

That is changing, however: Gartner estimates that the number of users will more than triple to 30 million this year, and projects that by the end of the year more than half of business laptops will be Wi-Fi-enabled.

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