U.K. McDonald's to serve up free Wi-Fi

Outlets across the U.K. are set to become wireless hot spots, as chain attempts to update its image and attract more businesspeople.

Fast-food chain McDonald's is about to launch free Wi-Fi service across its 1,200 outlets in the U.K., claiming that this will make the company the largest provider of free wireless Internet access in the country.

The move is in line with the McDonald's strategy to shift the brand into a higher-end market, currently occupied by trendy coffee bars such as Starbucks. Last year the company commenced refurbishing 200 choice sites with a more muted green-and-yellow color scheme, instead of the traditional red and yellow. The interiors were also upgraded with designer furnishings. At the same time, the company has diversified and augmented its menu to include healthier options.

The company hopes the Wi-Fi service will attract more businesspeople into it outlets, but Chief Information Officer Ivan Brooks said the company expects its existing customer base to respond to the service too. The company estimates that a regular hot spot user who pays to log on for an hour per week will save as much as $530 (260 pounds) per year on premium Wi-Fi charges.

McDonald's already has a relationship with BT Openzone and retains the carrier as a telecommunications partner, but has also signed up The Cloud as a hot spot access provider.

According to McDonald's Web site, McDonald's already offers at about 15,000 outlets, including at more than 8,000 in the United States.. But unlike in the U.K., the service isn't necessarily free.

Julian Goldsmith of Silicon.com reported from London.

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