BT has begun free trials of a wireless LAN (WLAN) service, BT Openzone, in preparation for a 1 August launch.

Earl's Court Olympia conference centre in London and the Heathrow Hilton Hotel at Heathrow Airport became the first site partners last week.

One hundred employees of Motorola division will be early users of the service, which the company is helping BT set up, according to a BT spokeswoman.

One of the network hosts was enthusiastic about the potential of the technology.

"We are very, very excited about the Wi-Fi service. It is absolutely fantastic and is going to change business travel," gushed Hilton Hospitality spokesman Chris McHall.

Hilton currently owns 499 hotels worldwide and plans to expand the WLAN service, which uses the Wi-Fi or IEEE 802.11b protocol, to all of its airport hotels as soon as it can.

"We will begin charging for the service 1 August and will move quickly to bring the service first to our airport hotels and then to our other hotels," he said.

BT plans to have 400 wireless LAN access points in operation in places such as airports, hotels, conference centres, railroad stations and coffee shops by June 2003. For the 1 August launch, 20 access points are expected to be available, with 70 open by December.

The service will cost around £95 per month for a fixed number of hours of use, or on a per minute basis for about 10p per minute.

To encourage early adoption, BT is promising a 50 percent discount for monthly users that sign up before the end of the year. The company would not say how many hours users will get for their monthly fee.

BT is hoping to generate annual revenue of at least £30 million by the end of 2005.

To use the service, subscribers will need a laptop with a Wi-Fi PC Card or built-in Wi-Fi interface, and must be within 100 meters of an access point, identified by a ‘BT Openzone hotspot’ sign.