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SBC teams with UPS for Wi-Fi delivery

The Baby Bell plans to offer wireless access in UPS Stores across the country in one of the largest commercial Wi-Fi installations to date.

SBC Communications announced Tuesday that it will offer Wi-Fi service in thousands of UPS Store locations in the United States.

The service, called FreedomLink, is designed to provide wireless Internet access to thousands of mobile workers throughout the country. It will allow business customers, who frequently use UPS Store locations while on the road, to connect laptop computers and personal digital assistants (PDAs) wirelessly to the Internet or corporate networks.

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The FreedomLink service will be available in more than 1,500 UPS locations by the end of the year, SBC said. These locations will include Mail Boxes Etc. stores, which are owned by the United Parcel Service, and additional installations will continue through 2005. Currently, there are approximately 3,300 UPS Store locations, and the U.S. network is projected to reach 5,000 by 2007.

The deal between SBC and UPS marks one of the nation's largest deployments of commercial Wi-Fi hot spots. Wi-Fi, which allows people to wirelessly connect to the Internet using unlicensed radio bands, offers data rates 50 to 100 times faster than dial-up, and has a range of up to 300 feet.

In an effort to provide the UPS service in regions where SBC doesn't have coverage, the Baby Bell is taking advantage of its existing partnership with Wayport, a Texas-based Wi-Fi service provider. A pilot program is currently under way in Europe, where the service could be extended to more than 1,100 Mail Boxes Etc. stores internationally.

SBC has already begun installing hot spots in airports, hotels, convention centers and restaurants. It is offering FreedomLink for $19.95 per month, which includes unlimited access to all Wi-Fi hot spots. Individuals who want walk-up access can purchase a day session for $7.95. The company plans to eventually bundle the service with its other broadband offerings.

Other carriers have also been setting up hot spots. Verizon Communications has brought Wi-Fi to 500 public locations in Manhattan. The carrier is offering the service free of charge to its broadband subscribers.

Cellular phone provider T-Mobile USA announced in April 2003 that it would offer Wi-Fi in 1,100 Kinko's stores. T-Mobile has been offering Wi-Fi access in chain stores such as Starbucks and Borders bookstores since 2002.

Initially, SBC has been targeting business customers with its Wi-Fi service. But it also plans to offer it to consumers, too. The plan is to deploy more than 20,000 FreedomLink hot spots in 6,000 venues over the next three years and create an integrated Wi-Fi and third-generation (3G) wireless service.

"The agreement is a giant step forward in our efforts to make FreedomLink service widely available to our customers," Ray Wilkins, president of SBC sales and marketing, said in a statement. "FreedomLink complements other SBC services, and our strategy is to aggressively deploy it in various types of venues to enable our customers to enjoy a comparable broadband experience in the home, at the office and on the road."