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Europe promised rash of Wi-Fi hot spots

Telecommunications giant Swisscom buys two wireless providers in a move to set up a network of as many as 800 Wi-Fi hot spots all over Europe.

    International telecommunications company Swisscom wrapped up a pair of acquisitions that should lead to the spread of wireless "hot spots" across Europe.

    The Swiss telecom giant announced Friday that it acquired Megabeam Networks, a U.K.-based provider of Wi-Fi hot spots. Financial details of the deal have not been disclosed. The company also bought WLAN, a German public wireless LAN provider, to gain a wider pan-European footprint.

    A new organization called Swisscom Eurospot will be set up on the back of the deals. Swisscom Eurospot will deal with end-users, resellers and location partners for wireless hot spots--public places where wireless Web access is generally available for a fee or for free--in 12 European countries.

    The race to provide broadband wireless Internet access at specific locations such as airports, hotels, train stations and coffee shops is now on. Megabeam is a major European provider of such access, using the 802.11b standard commonly known as Wi-Fi. It competes with BT Openzone and other operators, including a U.K. network launched yesterday and dubbed "The Cloud."

    Megabeam said Friday's sale will benefit customers, resellers and the company's financial backers, including Remote Reward--implying that the purchase price exceeds the sums sunk into the venture to date.

    Swisscom Eurospot will come into existence with over 800 hot spots. There are already several thousand hot spots across the United States, and numbers are expected to grow rapidly in Europe.

    Worldwide specialist wireless providers and other service providers--including traditional telecommunications companies and mobile operators such as T-Mobile--are competing with free services from "freedom-fighter" providers or even from companies unwittingly allowing people to use their networks.

    Silicon.com's Tony Hallett reported from London.