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McDonald's beefs up Wi-Fi trials

The restaurant chain super-sizes its New York tests of wireless hot spots with Cometa Networks, as the networking start-up gets under way with a Wi-Fi push.

McDonald's is super-sizing its Wi-Fi trial with wireless networking start-up Cometa Networks.

The Oak Brook, Ill.-based company announced late Tuesday that 75 of its fast-food restaurants in the New York Tri-State area will be covered by a high-speed wireless network with access to the Internet. The trial, a partnership with Cometa, extends an earlier, smaller pilot in the New York area with the wholesale network operator.

The second trial is part of the restaurant chain's increasing efforts to make 802.11-based wireless networking technology available to its customers.

"At McDonald's, we are all about being the most relevant, convenient and easy-to-use option for our busy customers," Bill Lowery, a senior vice president at the company, said in a statement.

Analysts have been skeptical about the business models behind equipping vast numbers of retail outlets with wireless Internet access in hopes of generating income from bandwidth rental. However, McDonald's views providing Wi-Fi access as a way to sell more meals, not as a way to get into the Internet business.

For Cometa, the partnership helps it expand the number of Wi-Fi hot spots it has installed in high-traffic areas. The company is trying to get going a nationwide network of hot spots, so it can attract carriers and Internet service providers as customers.

The earlier McDonald's-Cometa trial had about 10 restaurants offering Wi-Fi access in New York. The restaurant chain also has a test program with network company Wayport underway in more than 75 restaurants in the San Francisco Bay Area .

The bigger New York network is designed to let customers share a high-speed Internet connection, for free through the end of August and for $2.99 per day after that. About 60 of the 75 locations are already active, with more to be added over the summer. Customers will be able to identify locations with Wi-Fi access by a sign displaying the company's signature golden arches in the universal Internet "@" symbol.

San Francisco-based start-up Cometa formed late last year with the backing of technology giants IBM, Intel and AT&T. It is looking to install 20,000 hot spots nationwide.