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BT Openzone - not as open as you might think...

BT's press office has been urging me to check out BT Openzone's `wireless cities' project for several months now, so, finding myself holed up in Birmingham the other day, I thought I'd put it through its paces.

Under the project, 13 cities across the UK now have open air WiFi access courtesy of WiFi hotspot modems installed at payphones across the relevant city.

This is fine and dandy if you're a BT Openzone subscriber, but if you're using a partner account (I use Boingo), you're in for a nasty surprise.

Why? Because BT Openzone has roaming deals with a number of partners, including The Cloud and T-Mobile. When it comes down to it, it doesn't have that many of its own hotspots.

Take Birmingham, for example - `a wireless city,' shouts BT Openzone from its Web site.

In reality, BT Openzone only has six hotspots in the city centre, and relies on partners to boost its hotspot coverage to the low twenties.

With my Boingo account, I can only use BT Openzone's own hot spots and not those of its partners. Birmingham - a wireless city? Don't make me laugh. To see how it's really done, we have to look at Amsterdam, where Worldmax has turned on Europe's first WiMax network covering around 80 per cent of the city centre - seamlessly.

Download rates are just 1 Mbps and the upload rate, a friend reports, is around 100 Kbps. That's a lot slower than WiFi, but the service works just about anywhere - inside and outside, on the trams and even in a coffee bar basement.

And it's reliable enough to support a usable encrypted VPN connection that can be used on a laptop whilst trotting around the city.

Try doing that in one of BT Openzone's wireless cities (which, incidentally, doesn't include Manchester or London's city centre).

Back in the real world, I stayed in Oxford on Monday night and tried BT Openzone. 48 hot spots. Excellent, except only three of them are BT Openzone - four if you count one on the M40 motorway service station - the rest are via partners.

BT Openzone should be renamed BT-only-available-in-a-small-number-of- locations-if-we-have-a-hotspot-zone.

Wireless cities? Lies.