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Wayport fries competition for McDonald's bid

The Wi-Fi company will be the sole provider of wireless Internet access at McDonald's restaurants in the U.S.

McDonald's has chosen Wayport to be its sole supplier of Wi-Fi Internet service in the United States.

Wayport, based in Austin, Texas, will offer Wi-Fi service in as many as 3,000 McDonald's restaurants by the end of the year. The company is also expected to eventually serve the remaining 10,000 McDonald's locations in the United States.


What's new:
Wayport beats out Cometa Networks and Toshiba to become the sole provider of Wi-Fi access in thousands of McDonald's restaurants.

Bottom line:
McDonald's decision gives Wayport its biggest customer yet and creates one of the largest retail deployments of Wi-Fi in the United States. It basically means that Wi-Fi service will be available to a much larger and more diverse group of people. The question is: What can McDonald's do to get its customers interested in wireless Net access?

Track the players

For the past nine months, Wayport has offered wireless Internet connections in about 300 McDonald's restaurants as part of a test program that included San Francisco Bay Area; Portland, Ore.; Boise, Idaho; and Raleigh, N.C. The company competed with two other companies for the contract: Cometa Networks, which has served McDonald's restaurants in New York City and Seattle, and Toshiba, which provided Wi-Fi gear for the Midwest.

McDonald's said it has already started converting hundreds of existing pilot locations in Seattle, Chicago and New York to the Wayport service. More announcements regarding additional markets will follow in the coming months.

McDonald's plans to charge customers $2.95 for a two-hour wireless Internet connection, with other pricing options available from Wayport, including a $29.95 monthly plan that will give subscribers unlimited use of all locations in the Wayport network. Service options available via roaming partners will be announced soon.

Wayport wireless access is found in more than 800 locations in the United States, including 700 hotels from chains such as the Four Seasons, Wyndham and Hilton. Wayport's Wi-Fi access is also available in six major airports, including in Dallas and San Jose, Calif. In addition, the company's service is found at hundreds of UPS outlets nationwide.

Wayport is also working with cellular carriers such as AT&T Wireless, Sprint and SBC Communications.

While interest in Wi-Fi is growing, analysts are skeptical that retail outlets will be able to make money from renting out wireless Internet access. For McDonald's, though, Wi-Fi access is just another way to help sell meals.

"We want the Golden Arches to be the first choice for a great meal and wireless Internet access," Jim Sappington, McDonald's vice president of U.S. information technology, said in a statement.