Wi-Fi Gets 'Super Sized'

By Michael Singer

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It won't be too long before the clerk behind the counter asks you if you would like Wi-Fi with your McDonalds French fries.

The company known for its Big Macs and Filet-o-Fish is launching a major wireless Internet rollout in ten McDonald's restaurants in Manhattan starting this week and is scheduled to expand to several hundred restaurants in three major U.S. markets by year's end including Chicago and a "yet to be determined" major city in California.

The Oak Brook, IL-based company said for the next three months, wireless-enabled laptop customers in New York City who purchase an Extra Value Meal at participating McDonald's restaurants will get one hour of free high-speed wireless Internet access. Customers also can purchase a single session of up to 60 minutes for $3.00. McDonald's is offering an open network for all wireless users, so customers and its employees do not have to set up an account.

"McDonald's is bringing broadband to Broadway," said Mats Lederhausen, president of McDonald's Corporation's Business Development Group. "McDonald's pioneered convenience so it makes perfect sense for us to offer our customers a great way to unwire, unwind, enjoy an Extra Value Meal and catch up on e-mail."

The Internet access is being provided by Cometa a partnership between IBM, AT&T and Intel. A spokesman for McDonalds told internetnews.com that Cometa's contract is only for the short term and other wireless Internet service providers are being considered.

In fact, the rollout is part of a partnership between McDonalds and Intel to coincide with Intel's March 12 launch of its Centrino wireless chipset.

Sources close to the deal also say, that McDonalds is also signing up as a customer of Intel and buying a parcel of Centrino-enabled laptops for their mobile employees.

The fast food king has already signed up to deploy hotspots in some of its franchise locations. A McDonalds in Media, Ohio claims it is the first Golden Arches in the nation to offer both 802.11b Wi-Fi Internet access and regular hardwired access.

Overseas is a different story. McDonalds of Japan and investment firm Softbank are discussing installing up to 4,000 hot spots in the restaurant's Japanese outlets. Australia-based Telstra said it in negotiations with McDonalds to complement Telstra's existing $3 million wireless network, which already covers Qantas airport lounges and Rydges Hotels.

Wireless hotspots are on the rise, with current estimates pointing to some 78 million wireless consumers nationwide.