Softbank to offer wireless LAN at McDonald's

Softbank is planning to provide public IP (Internet Protocol) telephony services and wireless Internet access at McDonald's fast-food restaurants in Japan, using its ADSL (Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line) infrastructure, the two companies announced Tuesday.

They aim to offer the IP telephony service in as many restaurants as possible in 10 cities where soccer World Cup games will be held, and will try to be ready by the opening of World Cup on May 31, said Yasuyuki Yagi, president and chief operating officer of McDonald's Co. (Japan) Ltd.

For the first six months, the public IP telephony service will be free of charge within Japan and to the U.S., said Masayoshi Son, president and chief executive officer of Softbank. Then, Softbank plans to charge ¥10 (US$0.08) for four minutes, he said.

The wireless service is part of the Yahoo BB Mobile service recently launched by Softbank subsidiary Yahoo Japan Corp. It allows subscribers to wirelessly access the Internet at speeds up to 8M bps (bits per second). The system will be based on the IEEE 802.11b standard, which operates in the 2.4GHz band, according to a statement issued by Softbank and McDonald's.

Softbank will offer three tariffs for the service: ¥1,580 for an access service only; ¥2,280 for the full Yahoo BB Mobile service, including e-mail accounts, home page services and dial-up access; or ¥990 for existing customers of Yahoo Japan's broadband service, according to the statement.

An authentication system that requires identification and passwords will be used for security, it said.

McDonald's in the U.S. and other countries are also conducting tests for such wireless LAN hotspot services, Yagi said. However, McDonald's Japan is, so far, the only one that actually tied up with a company to start the service, he said.

"Japanese McDonald's may have the most advanced IT environment," Son said, adding that McDonald's executives at U.S. headquarters are interested in its service.

McDonald's Japan hopes its service will be expanded to McDonald's restaurants worldwide in the future, Yagi said.

Softbank also hopes to expand the hotspots at other places. The company has been in talks with other potential business partners, Son said.

Tests have been conducted at 20 McDonald's restaurants in the Tokyo metropolitan area, and this month, they hope to start trials with real users, Yagi said.

"We are running very strict tests at the moment to see how fast the data transmission speed actually can be," Yagi said.

They will decide when and in how many venues to offer the hotspot service depending on the results of the tests and trials, he said. McDonald's Japan currently has a total of 3,867 restaurants in Japan.

If necessary, Softbank will upgrade some of its ADSL network to optical fiber networks for the service in the future, Son said.

Softbank hopes to promote its mobile broadband service by offering hotspots at the fast-food restaurants, while McDonald's Japan believes the service will attract young customers, Yagi said. "By advancing in IT technology, which will become common in our society soon, we hope to add values to the McDonald's brand name," he said.

Last month, NTT Communications Corp. announced that it will launch a commercial wireless LAN service, consisting of about 200 hotspots at cafes, hotels, convenience stores and other locations in Tokyo, from May 15.

Its flat monthly access fee is expected to be ¥1,600 at up to 11M bps over 802.11b networks, or up to 36M bps over 802.11a networks.

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